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Title: Red Pepper's Patients - With an Account of Anne Linton's Case in Particular
Author: Richmond, Grace S. (Grace Smith), 1866-1959
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Red Pepper's Patients - With an Account of Anne Linton's Case in Particular" ***

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RED PEPPER'S PATIENTS

With an Account of Anne Linton's Case in Particular

by

GRACE S. RICHMOND

Garden City New York
Doubleday, Page & Company

1918



[Illustration: FRONTISPIECE]



[Illustration: "Red Pepper" Burns, M.D.]



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

   I.      AN INTELLIGENT PRESCRIPTION

   II.     LITTLE HUNGARY

   III.    ANNE LINTON'S TEMPERATURE

   IV.     TWO RED HEADS

   V.      SUSQUEHANNA

   VI.     HEAVY LOCAL MAILS

   VII.    WHITE LILACS

   VIII.   EXPERT DIAGNOSIS

   IX.     JORDAN IS A MAN

   X.      THE SURGICAL FIRING LINE

   XI.     THE ONLY SAFE PLACE

   XII.    THE TRUTH ABOUT SUSQUEHANNA

   XIII.   RED HEADED AGAIN

   XIV.    A STRANGE DAY

   XV.     CLEARED DECKS

   XVI.    WHITE LILACS AGAIN

   XVII.   RED'S DEAREST PATIENTS



CHAPTER I


AN INTELLIGENT PRESCRIPTION

The man in the silk-lined, London-made overcoat, holding his hat firmly
on his head lest the January wind send its expensive perfection into the
gutter, paused to ask his way of the man with no overcoat, his hands
shoved into his ragged pockets, his shapeless headgear crowded down over
his eyes, red and bleary with the piercing wind.

"Burns?" repeated the second man to the question of the first. "Doc
Burns? Sure! Next house beyond the corner--the brick one." He turned to
point. "Tell it by the rigs hitched. It's his office hours. You'll do
some waitin', tell ye that."

The questioner smiled--a slightly superior smile. "Thank you," he said,
and passed on. He arrived at the corner and paused briefly, considering
the row of vehicles in front of the old, low-lying brick house with its
comfortable, white-pillared porches. The row was indeed a formidable
one and suggested many waiting people within the house. But after an
instant's hesitation he turned up the gravel path toward the wing of the
house upon whose door could be seen the lettering of an inconspicuous
sign. As he came near he made out that the sign read "R.P. Burns, M.D.,"
and that the table of office hours below set forth that the present hour
was one of those designated.

"I'll get a line on your practice, Red," said the stranger to himself,
and laid hand upon the doorbell. "Incidentally, perhaps, I'll get a line
on why you stick to a small suburban town like this when you might be in
the thick of things. A fellow whom I've twice met in Vienna, too. I
can't understand it."

A fair-haired young woman in a white uniform and cap admitted the
newcomer and pointed him to the one chair left unoccupied in the large
and crowded waiting-room. It was a pleasant room, in a well-worn sort of
way, and the blazing wood fire in a sturdy fireplace, the rows of
dull-toned books cramming a solid phalanx of bookcases, and a number of
interesting old prints on the walls gave it, as the stranger, lifting
critical eyes, was obliged to admit to himself, a curious air of dignity
in spite of the mingled atmosphere of drugs and patients which assailed
his fastidious nostrils. As for the patients themselves, since they
were all about him, he could hardly do less than observe them, although
he helped himself to a late magazine from a well-filled table at his
side and mechanically turned its pages.

The first to claim his attention was a little girl at his elbow. She
could hardly fail to catch his eye, she was so conspicuous with
bandages. One eye, one cheek, the whole of her neck, and both her hands
were swathed in white, but the other cheek was rosy, and the uncovered
eye twinkled bravely as she smiled at the stranger. "I was burned," she
said proudly.

"I see," returned the stranger, speaking very low, for he was conscious
that the entire roomful of people was listening. "And you are getting
better?"

"Oh, yes!" exulted the child. "Doctor's making me have new skin. He gets
me more new skin every day. I didn't have any at all. It was all burned
off."

"That's very good of him," murmured the stranger.

"He's awful good," said the child, "when he isn't cross. He isn't ever
cross to me, Doctor isn't."

There was a general murmur of amusement in the room, and another child,
not far away, laughed aloud. The stranger furtively scrutinized the
other patients one by one, lifting apparently casual glances from
behind his magazine. Several, presumably the owners of the vehicles
outside, were of the typical village type, but there were others more
sophisticated, and several who were palpably persons of wealth. One late
comer was admitted who left a luxuriously appointed motor across the
street, and brought in with her an atmosphere of costly furs and violets
and fresh air.

"Certainly a mixed crowd," said the stranger to himself behind his
magazine; "but not so different, after all, from most doctors'
waiting-room crowds. I might send in a card, but, if I remember Red, it
wouldn't get me anything--and this is rather interesting anyhow. I'll
wait."

He waited, for he wished the waiting room to be clear when he should
approach that busy consulting room beyond. Meanwhile, people came and
went. The door into the inner room would swing open, a patient would
emerge, a curt but pleasant "Good-bye" in a deep voice following him or
her out, and the fair-haired nurse, who sat at a desk near the door or
came out of the consulting room with the patient, would summon the next.
The lady of the furs and violets sent in her card, but, as the stranger
had anticipated in his own case, it procured her no more than an
assurance from the nurse that Doctor Burns would see her in due course.
Since he wanted the coast clear the stranger, when at last his turn
arrived, politely waived his rights, sent the furs and violets in before
him, and sat alone with the nurse in the cleared waiting room.

A comparatively short period of time elapsed before the consulting-room
door opened once more. But it closed again--almost--and a few words
reached the outer room.

"Oh, but you're hard--hard, Doctor Burns! I simply can't do it," said a
plaintive voice.

"Then don't expect me to accomplish anything. It's up to
you--absolutely," replied a brusque voice, which then softened slightly
as it added: "Cheer up. You can, you know. Good-bye."

The patient came out, her lips set, her eyes lowered, and left the
office as if she wanted nothing so much as to get away. The nurse rose
and began to say that Doctor Burns would now see his one remaining
caller, but at that moment Doctor Burns himself appeared in the doorway,
glanced at the stranger, who had risen, smiling--and the need for an
intermediary between physician and patient vanished before the onslaught
of the physician himself.

"My word! Gardner Coolidge! Well, well--if this isn't the greatest thing
on earth. My dear fellow!"

The stranger, no longer a stranger, with his hand being wrung like
that, with his eyes being looked into by a pair of glowing hazel eyes
beneath a heavy thatch of well-remembered coppery hair, returned this
demonstration of affection with equal fervour.

"I've been sitting in your stuffy waiting room, Red, till the entire
population of this town should tell you its aches, just for the pleasure
of seeing you with the professional manner off."

Burns threw back his head and laughed, with a gesture as of flinging
something aside. "It's off then, Cooly--if I have one. I didn't know I
had. How are you? Man, but it's good to see you! Come along out of this
into a place that's not stuffy. Where's your bag? You didn't leave it
anywhere?"

"I can't stay, Red--really I can't. Not this time. I must go to-night.
And I came to consult you professionally--so let's get that over first."

"Of course. Just let me speak a word to the authorities. You'll at least
be here for dinner? Step into the next room, Cooly. On your way let me
present you to my assistant, Miss Mathewson, whom I couldn't do without.
Mr. Coolidge, Miss Mathewson."

Gardner Coolidge bowed to the office nurse, whom he had already
classified as a very attractively superior person and well worth a good
salary; then went on into the consulting room, where an open window had
freshened the small place beyond any possibility of its being called
stuffy. As he closed the window with a shiver and looked about him,
glancing into the white-tiled surgery beyond; he recognized the fact
that, though he might be in the workshop of a village practitioner, it
was a workshop which did not lack the tools of the workman thoroughly
abreast of the times.

Burns came back, his face bright with pleasure in the unexpected
appearance of his friend. He stood looking across the small room at
Coolidge, as if he could get a better view of the whole man at a little
distance. The two men were a decided contrast to each other. Redfield
Pepper Burns, known to all his intimates, and to many more who would not
have ventured to call him by that title, as "Red Pepper Burns," on
account of the combination of red head, quick temper, and wit which were
his most distinguishing characteristics of body and mind, was a stalwart
fellow whose weight was effectually kept down by his activity. His white
linen office jacket was filled by powerful shoulders, and the perfectly
kept hands of the surgeon gave evidence, as such hands do, of their
delicacy of touch, in the very way in which Burns closed the door behind
him.

Gardner Coolidge was of a different type altogether. As tall as Burns,
he looked taller because of his slender figure and the distinctive
outlines of his careful dress. His face was dark and rather thin,
showing sensitive lines about the eyes and mouth, and a tendency to
melancholy in the eyes themselves, even when lighted by a smile, as now.
He was manifestly the man of worldly experience, with fastidious tastes,
and presumably one who did not accept the rest of mankind as comrades
until proved and chosen.

"So it's my services you want?" questioned Burns. "If that's the case,
then it's here you sit."

"Face to the light, of course," objected Coolidge with a grimace. "I
wonder if you doctors know what a moral advantage as well as a physical
one that gives you."

"Of course. The moral advantage is the one we need most. Anybody can see
when a skin is jaundiced; but only by virtue of that moral standpoint
can we detect the soul out of order. And that's the matter with you,
Cooly."

"What!" Coolidge looked startled. "I knew you were a man who jumped to
conclusions in the old days--"

"And acted on them, too," admitted Burns. "I should say I did. And got
myself into many a scrape thereby, of course. Well, I jump to
conclusions now, in just the same way, only perhaps with a bit more
understanding of the ground I jump on. However, tell me your symptoms
in orthodox style, please, then we'll have them out of the way."

Coolidge related them somewhat reluctantly because, as he went on, he
was conscious that they did not appear to be of as great importance as
this visit to a physician seemed to indicate he thought them. The most
impressive was the fact that he was unable to get a thoroughly good
night's sleep except when physically exhausted, which in his present
manner of life he seldom was. When he had finished and looked around--he
had been gazing out of the window--he found himself, as he had known he
should, under the intent scrutiny of the eyes he was facing.

"What did the last man give you for this insomnia?" was the abrupt
question.

"How do you know I have been to a succession of men?" demanded Coolidge
with a touch of evident irritation.

"Because you come to me. We don't look up old friends in the profession
until the strangers fail us," was the quick reply.

"More hasty conclusions. Still, I'll have to admit that I let our family
physician look me over, and that he suggested my seeing a nerve
man--Allbright. He has rather a name, I believe?"

"Sure thing. What did he recommend?"

"A long sea voyage. I took it--having nothing else to do--and slept a
bit better while I was away. The minute I got back it was the old
story."

"Nothing on your mind, I suppose?" suggested Burns.

"I supposed you'd ask me that stock question. Why shouldn't there be
something on my mind? Is there anybody whose mind is free from a weight
of some sort?" demanded Gardner Coolidge. His thin face flushed a
little.

"Nobody," admitted Burns promptly. "The question is whether the weight
on yours is one that's got to stay there or whether you may be rid of
it. Would you care to tell me anything about it? I'm a pretty old
friend, you know."

Coolidge was silent for a full minute, then he spoke with evident
reluctance: "It won't do a particle of good to tell, but I suppose, if I
consult you, you have a right to know the facts. My wife--has gone back
to her father."

"On a visit?" Burns inquired.

Coolidge stared at him. "That's like you, Red," he said, irritation in
his voice again. "What's the use of being brutal?"

"Has she been gone long enough for people to think it's anything more
than a visit?"

"I suppose not. She's been gone two months. Her home is in California."

"Then she can be gone three without anybody's thinking trouble. By the
end of that third month you can bring her home," said Burns comfortably.
He leaned back in his swivel-chair, and stared hard at the ceiling.

Coolidge made an exclamation of displeasure and got to his feet. "If you
don't care to take me seriously--" he began.

"I don't take any man seriously who I know cared as much for his wife
when he married her as you did for Miss Carrington--and whose wife was
as much in love with him as she was with you--when he comes to me and
talks about her having gone on a visit to her father. Visits are good
things; they make people appreciate each other."

"You don't--or won't--understand." Coolidge evidently strove hard to
keep himself quiet. "We have come to a definite understanding that we
can't--get on together. She's not coming back. And I don't want her to."

Burns lowered his gaze from the ceiling to his friend's face, and the
glance he now gave him was piercing. "Say that last again," he demanded.

"I have some pride," replied the other haughtily, but his eyes would not
meet Burns's.

"So I see. Pride is a good thing. So is love. Tell me you don't love her
and I'll--No, don't tell me that. I don't want to hear you perjure
yourself. And I shouldn't believe you. You may as well own up"--his
voice was gentle now--"that you're suffering--and not only with hurt
pride." There was silence for a little. Then Burns began again, in a
very low and quiet tone: "Have you anything against her, Cooly?"

The man before him, who was still standing, turned upon him. "How can
you ask me such a question?" he said fiercely.

"It's a question that has to be asked, just to get it out of the way.
Has she anything against you?"

"For heaven's sake--no! You know us both."

"I thought I did. Diagnosis, you know, is a series of eliminations. And
now I can eliminate pretty nearly everything from this case except a
certain phrase you used a few minutes ago. I'm inclined to think it's
the cause of the trouble." Coolidge looked his inquiry. "'_Having
nothing else to do._'"

Coolidge shook his head. "You're mistaken there. I have plenty to do."

"But nothing you couldn't be spared from--unless things have changed
since the days when we all envied you. You're still writing your name on
the backs of dividend drafts, I suppose?"

"Red, you are something of a brute," said Coolidge, biting his lip. But
he had taken the chair again.

"I know," admitted Red Pepper Burns. "I don't really mean to be, but the
only way I can find out the things I need to know is to ask straight
questions. I never could stand circumlocution. If you want that, Cooly;
if you want what are called 'tactful' methods, you'll have to go to some
other man. What I mean by asking you that one is to prove to you that
though you may have something to do, you have no job to work at. As it
happens you haven't even what most other rich men have, the trouble of
looking after your income--and as long as your father lives you won't
have it. I understand that; he won't let you. But there's a man with a
job--your father. And he likes it so well he won't share it with you. It
isn't the money he values, it's the job. And collecting books or curios
or coins can never be made to take the place of good, downright hard
work."

"That may be all true," acknowledged Coolidge, "but it has nothing to do
with my present trouble. My leisure was not what--" He paused, as if he
could not bear to discuss the subject of his marital unhappiness.

The telephone bell in the outer office rang sharply. An instant later
Miss Mathewson knocked, and gave a message to Burns. He read it,
nodded, said "Right away," and turned back to his friend.

"I have to leave you for a bit," he said. "Come in and meet my wife and
one of the kiddies. The other's away just now. I'll be back in time for
dinner. Meanwhile, we'll let the finish of this talk wait over for an
hour or two. I want to think about it."

He exchanged his white linen office-jacket for a street coat, splashing
about with soap and water just out of sight for a little while before he
did so, and reappeared looking as if he had washed away the fatigue of
his afternoon's work with the physical process. He led Gardner Coolidge
out of the offices into a wide separating hall, and the moment the door
closed behind him the visitor felt as if he had entered a different
world.

Could this part of the house, he thought, as Burns ushered him into the
living room on the other side of the hall and left him there while he
went to seek his wife, possibly be contained within the old brick walls
of the exterior? He had not dreamed of finding such refinement of beauty
and charm in connection with the office of the village doctor. In half a
dozen glances to right and left Gardner Coolidge, experienced in
appraising the belongings of the rich and travelled of superior taste
and breeding, admitted to himself that the genius of the place must be
such a woman as he would not have imagined Redfield Pepper Burns able
to marry.

He had not long to wait for the confirmation of his insight. Burns
shortly returned, a two-year-old boy on his shoulder, his wife
following, drawn along by the child's hand. Coolidge looked, and liked
that which he saw. And he understood, with one glance into the dark eyes
which met his, one look at the firm sweetness of the lovely mouth, that
the heart of the husband must safely trust in this woman.

Burns went away at once, leaving Coolidge in the company of Ellen, and
the guest, eager though he was for the professional advice he had come
to seek, could not regret the necessity which gave him this hour with a
woman who seemed to him very unusual. Charm she possessed in full
measure, beauty in no less, but neither of these terms nor both together
could wholly describe Ellen Burns. There was something about her which
seemed to glow, so that he soon felt that her presence in the quietly
rich and restful living room completed its furnishing, and that once
having seen her there the place could never be quite at its best without
her.

Burns came back, and the three went out to dinner. The small boy, a
handsome, auburn-haired, brown-eyed composite of his parents, had been
sent away, the embraces of both father and mother consoling him for his
banishment to the arms of a coloured mammy. Coolidge thoroughly enjoyed
the simple but appetizing dinner, of the sort he had known he should
have as soon as he had met the mistress of the house. And after it he
was borne away by Burns to the office.

"I have to go out again at once," the physician announced. "I'm going to
take you with me. I suppose you have a distaste for the sight of
illness, but that doesn't matter seriously. I want you to see this
patient of mine."

"Thank you, but I don't believe that's necessary," responded Coolidge
with a frown. "If Mrs. Burns is too busy to keep me company I'll sit
here and read while you're out."

"No, you won't. If you consult a man you're bound to take his
prescriptions. I'm telling you frankly, for you'd see through me if I
pretended to take you out for a walk and then pulled you into a house.
Be a sport, Cooly."

"Very well," replied the other man, suppressing his irritation. He was
almost, but not quite, wishing he had not yielded to the unexplainable
impulse which had brought him here to see a man who, as he should have
known from past experience in college days, was as sure to be eccentric
in his methods of practising his profession as he had been in the
conduct of his life as a student.

The two went out into the winter night together, Coolidge remarking that
the call must be a brief one, for his train would leave in a little more
than an hour.

"It'll be brief," Burns promised. "It's practically a friendly call
only, for there's nothing more I can do for the patient--except to see
him on his way."

Coolidge looked more than ever reluctant. "I hope he's not just leaving
the world?"

"What if he were--would that frighten you? Don't be worried; he'll not
go to-night."

Something in Burns's tone closed his companion's lips. Coolidge resented
it, and at the same time he felt constrained to let the other have his
way. And after all there proved to be nothing in the sight he presently
found himself witnessing to shock the most delicate sensibilities.

It was a little house to which Burns conducted his friend and latest
patient; it was a low-ceiled, homely room, warm with lamplight and
comfortable with the accumulations of a lifetime carefully preserved. In
the worn, old, red-cushioned armchair by a glowing stove sat an aged
figure of a certain dignity and attractiveness in spite of the lines and
hues plainly showing serious illness. The man was a man of education
and experience, as was evident from his first words in response to
Burns's greeting.

"It was kind of you to come again to-night, Doctor. I suspect you know
how it shortens the nights to have this visit from you in the evening."

"Of course I know," Burns responded, his hand resting gently on the
frail shoulder, his voice as tender as that of a son's to a father whom
he knows he is not long to see.

There was a woman in the room, an old woman with a pathetic face and
eyes like a mourning dog's as they rested on her husband. But her voice
was cheerful and full of quiet courage as she answered Burns's
questions. The pair received Gardner Coolidge as simply as if they were
accustomed to meet strangers every day, spoke with him a little, and
showed him the courtesy of genuine interest when he tried to entertain
them with a brief account of an incident which had happened on his train
that day. Altogether, there was nothing about the visit which he could
have characterized as painful from the point of view of the layman who
accompanies the physician to a room where it is clear that the great
transition is soon to take place. And yet there was everything about it
to make it painful--acutely painful--to any man whose discernment was
naturally as keen as Coolidge's.

That the parting so near at hand was to be one between lovers of long
standing could be read in every word and glance the two gave each other.
That they were making the most of these last days was equally apparent,
though not a word was said to suggest it. And that the man who was
conducting them through the fast-diminishing time was dear to them as a
son could have been read by the very blind.

"It's so good of you--so good of you, Doctor," they said again as Burns
rose to go, and when he responded: "It's good to myself I am, my dears,
when I come to look at you," the smiles they gave him and each other
were very eloquent.

Outside there was silence between the two men for a little as they
walked briskly along, then Coolidge said reluctantly: "Of course I
should have a heart of stone if I were not touched by that scene--as you
knew I would be."

"Yes, I knew," said Burns simply; and Coolidge saw him lift his hand and
dash away a tear. "It gets me, twice a day regularly, just as if I
hadn't seen it before. And when I go back and look at the woman I love I
say to myself that I'll never let anything but the last enemy come
between us if I have to crawl on my knees before her."

Suddenly Coolidge's throat contracted. His resentment against his friend
was gone. Surely it was a wise physician who had given him that
heartbreaking little scene to remember when he should be tempted to
harden his heart against the woman he had chosen.

"Red," he said bye and bye, when the two were alone together for a few
minutes again in the consulting room before he should leave for his
train, "is that all the prescription you're going to give me--a trip to
California? Suppose I'm not successful?"

Red Pepper Burns smiled, a curious little smile. "You've forgotten what
I told you about the way my old man and woman made a home together,' and
worked at their market gardening together, and read and studied
together--did everything from first to last _together_. That's the whole
force of the illustration, to my mind, Cooly. It's the standing shoulder
to shoulder to face life that does the thing. Whatever plan you make for
your after life, when you bring Alicia back with you--as you will; I
know it--make it a plan which means partnership--if you have to build a
cottage down on the edge of your estate and live alone there together.
Alone till the children come to keep you company," he added with a
sudden flashing smile.

Coolidge looked at him and shook his head. His face dropped back into
melancholy. He opened his lips and closed them again. Red Pepper Burns
opened his own lips--and closed them again. When he did speak it was to
say, more gently than he had yet spoken:

"Old fellow, life isn't in ruins before you. Make up your mind to that.
You'll sleep again, and laugh again--and cry again, too,--because life
is like that, and you wouldn't want it any other way."

It was time for Coolidge to go, and the two men went in to permit the
guest to take leave of Mrs. Burns. When they left the house Coolidge
told his friend briefly what he thought of his friend's wife, and Burns
smiled in the darkness as he heard.

"She affects most people that way," he answered with a proud little ring
in his voice. But he did not go on to talk about her; that would have
been brutal indeed in Coolidge's unhappy circumstances.

At the train Coolidge turned suddenly to his physician. "You haven't
given me anything for my sleeplessness," he said.

"Think you must have a prescription?" Burns inquired, getting out his
blank and pen.

"It will take some time for your advice to work out, if it ever does,"
Coolidge said. "Meanwhile, the more good sleep I get the fitter I shall
be for the effort."

"True enough. All right, you shall have the prescription."

Burns wrote rapidly, resting the small leather-bound book on his knee,
his foot on an iron rail of the fence which kept passengers from
crowding. He read over what he had written, his face sober, his eyes
intent. He scrawled a nearly indecipherable "_Burns_" at the bottom,
folded the slip and handed it to his friend. "Put it away till you're
ready to get it filled," he advised.

The two shook hands, gripping tightly and looking straight into each
other's eyes.

"Thank you, Red, for it all," said Gardner Coolidge. "There have been
minutes when I felt differently, but I understand you better now. And I
see why your waiting room is full of patients even on a stormy day."

"No, you don't," denied Red Pepper Burns stoutly. "If you saw me take
their heads off you'd wonder that they ever came again. Plenty of them
don't--and I don't blame them--when I've cooled off."

Coolidge smiled. "You never lie awake thinking over what you've said or
done, do you, Red? Bygones are bygones with a man like you. You couldn't
do your work if they weren't!"

A peculiar look leaped into Burns's eyes. "That's what the outsiders
always think," he answered briefly.

"Isn't it true?"

"You may as well go on thinking it is--and so may the rest. What's the
use of explaining oneself, or trying to? Better to go on looking
unsympathetic--and suffering, sometimes, more than all one's patients
put together!"

Coolidge stared at the other man. His face showed suddenly certain grim
lines which Coolidge had not noticed there before--lines written by
endurance, nothing less. But even as the patient looked the physician's
expression changed again. His sternly set lips relaxed into a smile, he
pointed to a motioning porter.

"Time to be off, Cooly," he said. "Mind you let me know how--you are.
Good luck--the best of it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In the train Coolidge had no sooner settled himself than he read Burns's
prescription. He had a feeling that it would be different from other
prescriptions, and so it proved:

     Rx

     Walk five miles every evening.

     Drink no sort of stimulant, except one cup of coffee at
     breakfast.

     Begin to make plans for the cottage. Don't let it turn out a
     palace.

     Ask the good Lord every night to keep you from being a proud
     fool.

     BURNS.



CHAPTER II

LITTLE HUNGARY


"Not hungry, Red? After all that cold drive to-day? Would you like to
have Cynthia make you something special, dear?"

R.P. Burns, M.D., shook his head. "No, thanks." He straightened in his
chair, where he sat at the dinner table opposite his wife. He took up
his knife and fork again and ate valiantly a mouthful or two of the
tempting food upon his plate, then he laid the implements down
decisively. He put his elbow on the table and leaned his head upon his
hand. "I'm just too blamed tired to eat, that's all," he said.

"Then don't try. I'm quite through, too. Come in the living room and lie
down a little. It's such a stormy night there may be nobody in."

Ellen slipped her hand through his arm and led the way to the big blue
couch facing the fireplace. He dropped upon it with a sigh of fatigue.
His wife sat down beside him and began to pass her fingers lightly
through his heavy hair, with the touch which usually soothed him into
slumber if no interruptions came to summon him. But to-night her
ministrations seemed to have little effect, for he lay staring at a
certain picture on the wall with eyes which evidently saw beyond it into
some trying memory.

"Is the whole world lying heavy on your shoulders to-night, Red?" Ellen
asked presently, knowing that sometimes speech proved a relief from
thought.

He nodded. "The whole world--millions of tons of it. It's just because
I'm tired. There's no real reason why I should take this day's work
harder than usual--except that I lost the Anderson case this morning.
Poor start for the day, eh?"

"But you knew you must lose it. Nobody could have saved that poor
creature."

"I suppose not. But I wanted to save him just the same. You see, he
particularly wanted to live, and he had pinned his whole faith to me. He
wouldn't give it up that I could do the miracle. It hurts to disappoint
a faith like that."

"Of course it does," she said gently. "But you must try to forget now,
Red, because of to-morrow. There will be people to-morrow who need you
as much as he did."

"That's just what I'd like to forget," he murmured. "Everything's gone
wrong to-day--it'll go worse to-morrow."

She knew it was small use to try to combat this mood, so unlike his
usual optimism, but frequent enough of occurrence to make her understand
that there is no depression like that of the habitually buoyant, once it
takes firm hold. She left him presently and went to sit by the reading
lamp, looking through current magazines in hope of finding some article
sufficiently attractive to capture his interest, and divert his heavy
thoughts. His eyes rested absently on her as she sat there, a charming,
comradely figure in her simple home dinner attire, with the light on her
dark hair and the exquisite curve of her cheek.

It was a fireside scene of alluring comfort, the two central figures of
such opposite characteristics, yet so congenial. The night outside was
very cold, the wind blowing stormily in great gusts which now and then
howled down the chimney, making the warmth and cheer within all the more
appealing.

Suddenly Ellen, hunting vainly for the page she sought, lifted her head,
to see her husband lift his at the same instant.

"Music?" she questioned. "Where can it come from? Not outside on such a
night as this?"

"Did you hear it, too? I've been thinking it my imagination."

"It must be the wind, but--no, it _is_ music!"

She rose and went to the window, pushing aside draperies and setting her
face to the frosty pane. The next instant she called in a startled way:

"Oh, Red--come here!"

He came slowly, but the moment he caught sight of the figure in the
storm outside his langour vanished.

"Good heavens! The poor beggar! We must have him in."

He ran to the hall and the outer door, and Ellen heard his shout above
the howling of the wind.

"Come in--come in!"

She reached the door into the hall as the slender young figure stumbled
up the steps, a violin clutched tight in fingers purple with cold. She
saw the stiff lips break into a frozen smile as her husband laid his
hand upon the thinly clad shoulder and drew the youth where he could
close the door.

"Why didn't you come to the door and ring, instead of fiddling out there
in the cold!" demanded Burns. "Do you think we're heathen, to shut
anybody out on a night like this?"

The boy shook his head. He was a boy in size, though the maturity of his
thin face suggested that he was at least nineteen or twenty years old.
His dark eyes gleamed out of hollow sockets, and his black hair,
curling thickly, was rough with neglect. But he had snatched off his
ragged soft hat even before he was inside the door, and for all the
stiffness of his chilled limbs his attitude, as he stood before his
hosts, had the unconscious grace of the foreigner.

"Where do you come from?" Burns asked.

Again the stranger shook his head.

"He can't speak English," said Ellen.

"Probably not--though he may be bluffing. We must warm and feed him,
anyhow. Will you have him in here, or shall I take him in the office?"

Ellen glanced again at the shivering youth, noted that the purple hands
were clean, even to the nails, and led the way unhesitatingly into the
living room with all its beckoning warmth and beauty.

"Good little sport--I knew you would," murmured Burns, as he beckoned
the boy after him.

Ellen left the two alone together by the fire, while she went to prepare
a tray with Cynthia in the kitchen, filling it with the hearty food
Burns himself had left untouched. Big slices of juicy roast beef, two
hurriedly warmed sweet potatoes which had been browned in syrup in the
Southern style, crisp buttered rolls, and a pot of steaming coffee were
on the large tray which Cynthia insisted on carrying to the living-room
door for her mistress. Burns, jumping up at sight of her, took the tray,
while Ellen cleared a small table, drew up a chair, and summoned the
young stranger.

The low bow he made her before he took the chair proclaimed his
breeding, as well as the smile of joy which showed the flash of his even
white teeth in the firelight. He made a little gesture of gratitude
toward both Burns and Ellen, pressing his hands over his heart and then
extending them, the expression on his face touching in its starved
restraint. Then he fell upon the food, and even though he was plainly
ravenous he ate as manneredly as any gentleman. Only by the way he
finished each tiniest crumb could they know his extremity.

"By Jove, that beats eating it myself, if I were hungry as a faster on
the third day!" Burns exclaimed, as he sat turned away from the
beneficiary, his eyes apparently upon the fire. Ellen, from behind the
boy, smiled at her husband, noting how completely his air of fatigue had
fallen from him. Often before she had observed how any call upon R.P.
Burns's sympathies rode down his own need of commiseration.

"Hungarian, I think, don't you?" Burns remarked, as the meal was
finished, and the youth rose to bow his thanks once more. This time
there was a response. He nodded violently, smiling and throwing out his
hands.

"_Ungahree_!" he said, and smiled and nodded again, and said again,
"_Ungahree_!"

"He knows that word all right," said Burns, smiling back. "It's a land
of musicians. The fiddle's a good one, I'll wager."

He glanced at it as he spoke, and the boy leaped for it, pressing it to
his breast. He began to tune it.

"He thinks we want to be paid for his supper," Ellen exclaimed. "Can't
you make him understand we should like him to rest first?"

"I'd only convey to him the idea that we didn't want to hear him play,
which would be a pity, for we do. If he's the musician he looks, by
those eyes and that mouth, we'll be more than paid. Go ahead,
Hungary--it'll make you happier than anything we could do for you."

Clearly it would. Burns carried out the tray, and when he returned his
guest was standing upon the hearth rug facing Ellen, his bow uplifted.
He waited till Burns had thrown himself down on the couch again in a
sitting posture, both arms stretched along the back. Then he made his
graceful obeisance again, and drew the bow very slowly and softly over
the first string. And, at the very first note, the two who were watching
him knew what was to come. It was in every line of him, that promise.

It might have been his gratitude that he was voicing, so touching were
the strains that followed that first note. The air was unfamiliar, but
it sounded like a folk song of his own country, and he put into it all
the poignant, peculiar melody of such a song. His tones were exquisite,
with the sure touch of the trained violinist inspired and supported by
the emotional understanding of the genuine musician.

When he had finished he stood looking downward for a moment, then as
Burns said "Bravo!" he smiled as if he understood the word, and lifted
his instrument again to his shoulder. This time his bow descended upon
the strings with a full note of triumph, and he burst into the brilliant
performance of a great masterpiece, playing with a spirit and dash which
seemed to transform him. Often his lips parted to show his white teeth,
often he swung his whole body into the rhythm of his music, until he
seemed a very part of the splendid harmonies he made. His thin cheeks
flushed, his hollow eyes grew bright, he smiled, he frowned, he shook
his slender shoulders, he even took a stride to right or left as he
played on, as if the passion of his performance would not let him rest.

His listeners watched him with sympathetic and comprehending interest.
Warmed and fed, his Latin nature leaping up from its deep depression to
the exaltation of the hour, the appeal he made to them was intensely
pathetic. Burns, even more ardently than his wife, responded to the
appeal. He no longer lounged among the pillows of the broad couch; he
sat erect, his eyes intent, his lips relaxed, his cares forgot. He was a
lover of music, as are many men of his profession, and he was more than
ordinarily susceptible to its influences. He drank in the tones of the
master, voiced by this devoted interpreter, like wine, and like wine
they brought the colour to his face also, and the light to his eyes.

"Jove!" he murmured, as the last note died away, "he's a wonder. He must
be older than he looks. How he loves it! He's forgotten that he doesn't
know where he's to sleep to-night--but, by all that's fair, _we_ know,
eh?"

Ellen smiled, with a look of assent. Her own heart was warmly touched.
There was a small bedroom upstairs, plainly but comfortably furnished,
which was often used for impecunious patients who needed to remain under
observation for a day or two. It was at the service of any chance guest,
and the chance guest was surely with them to-night. There was no place
in the village to which such a vagrant as this might be sent, except
the jail, and the jail, for a musician of such quality, was unthinkable.
And in the night and storm one would not turn a dog outdoors to hunt for
shelter--at least not Red Pepper Burns nor Ellen Burns, his wife.

As if he could not stop, now that he had found ears to listen, the young
Hungarian played on. More and more profoundly did his music move him,
until it seemed as if he had become the very spirit of the instrument
which sung and vibrated under his thin fingers.

"My word, Len, this is too good to keep all to ourselves. Let's have the
Macauleys and Chesters over. Then we'll have an excuse for paying the
chap a good sum for his work--and somehow I feel that we need an excuse
for such a gentleman as he is."

"That's just the thing. I'll ask them."

She was on her way to the telephone when her husband suddenly called
after her, "Wait a minute, Len." She turned back, to see the musician,
his bow faltering, suddenly lower his violin and lean against his
patron, who had leaped to his support. A minute later Burns had him
stretched upon the blue couch, and had laid his fingers on the bony
wrist.

"Hang me for a simpleton, to feed him like that he's probably not tasted
solid food for days. The reaction is too much, of course. He's been
playing on his nerve for the last ten minutes, and I, like an idiot,
thought it was his emotional temperament."

He ran out of the room and returned with a wine glass filled with
liquid, which he administered, his arm under the ragged shoulders. Then
he patted the wasted cheek, gone suddenly white except where the excited
colour still showed in faint patches.

"You'll be all right, son," he said, smiling down into the frightened
eyes, and his tone if not his words seemed to carry reassurance, for the
eyes closed with a weary flutter and the gripping fingers relaxed.

"He's completely done," Burns said pityingly. He took one hand in his
own and held it in his warm grasp, at which the white lids unclosed
again, and the sensitive lips tried to smile.

"I'd no business to let him play so long--I might have known. Poor boy,
he's starved for other things than food. Do you suppose anybody's held
his hand like this since he left the old country? He thought he'd find
wealth and fame in the new one--and this is what he found!"

Ellen stood looking at the pair--her brawny husband, himself "completely
done" an hour before, now sitting on the edge of the couch with his new
patient's hand in his, his face wearing an expression of keen interest,
not a sign of fatigue in his manner; the exhausted young foreigner in
his ragged clothing lying on the luxurious couch, his pale face standing
out like a fine cameo against the blue velvet of the pillow under his
dark head. If a thought of possible contamination for her home's
belongings entered her mind it found no lodgment there, so pitiful was
her heart.

"Is the room ready upstairs?" Burns asked presently, when he had again
noted the feeble action of the pulse under his fingers. "What he needs
is rest and sleep, and plenty of both. Like the most of us he's kept up
while he had to, and now he's gone to pieces absolutely. To-morrow we
can send him to the hospital, perhaps, but for to-night--"

"The room is ready. I sent Cynthia up at once."

"Bless you, you never fail me, do you? Well--we may as well be on our
way. He's nearly asleep now."

Burns stood up, throwing off his coat. But Ellen remonstrated.

"Dear, you are so tired to-night. Let me call Jim over to help you carry
him up."

A derisive laugh answered her. "Great Cæsar, Len! The chap's a mere bag
of bones--and if he were twice as heavy he'd be no weight for me. Jim
Macauley would howl at the idea, and no wonder. Go ahead and open the
doors, please, and I'll have him up in a jiffy."

He stooped over the couch, swung the slender figure up into his powerful
arms, speaking reassuringly to the eyes which slowly opened in
half-stupefied alarm. "It's all right, little Hungary. We're going to
put you to bed, like the small lost boy you are. Bring his fiddle,
Len--he won't want that out of his sight."

He strode away with his burden, and marched up the stairs as if he were
carrying his own two-year-old son. Arrived in the small, comfortable
little room at the back of the house he laid his charge on the bed, and
stood looking down at him.

"Len, I'll have to go the whole figure," he said--and said it not as if
the task he was about to impose upon himself were one that irked him.
"Get me hot water and soap and towels, will you? And an old pair of
pajamas. I can't put him to bed in his rags."

"Shall I send for Amy?" questioned his wife, quite as if she understood
the uselessness of remonstrance.

"Not much. Amy's making out bills for me to-night, we'll not interrupt
the good work. Put some bath-ammonia in the water, please--and have it
hot."

Half an hour later he called her in to see the work of his hands. She
had brought him one of his surgical aprons with the bath equipment. With
his sleeves rolled up, his apron well splashed, his coppery hair more or
less in disarray from the occasional thrustings of a soapy hand, and his
face flushed and eager like a healthy boy's, Red Pepper Burns stood
grinning down at his patient. Little Hungary lay in the clean white bed,
his pale face shining with soap and happiness, his arms upon the
coverlet encased in the blue and white sleeves of Burns's pajamas, the
sleeves neatly turned back to accommodate the shortness of his arms. The
workman turned to Ellen as she came in.

"Comfy, eh?" he observed briefly.

"Absolutely, I should say, poor dear."

"Ah, you wouldn't have called him that before the bath. But he is rather
a dear now, isn't he? And I think he's younger than I did downstairs.
Not over eighteen, at the most, but fully forty in the experiences and
hardships that have brought him here. Well, we'll go away and let him
rest. Wish I knew the Hungarian for 'good-night,' don't you? Anyway, if
he knows any prayers he'll say 'em, I'll venture."

The dark eyes were watching him intently as he spoke, as if their owner
longed to know what this kind angel in the form of a big American
stranger was saying to him. And when, in leaving him, Burns once more
laid an exploring touch upon his wrist, the two thin hands suddenly
clutched the strong one and bore it weakly to lips which kissed it
fervently.

"Well, that's rather an eloquent thank-you, eh?" murmured Burns, as he
patted the hands in reply. "No doubt but he's grateful. Put the fiddle
where he can see it in the morning, will you, honey? Open the window
pretty well: I've covered him thoroughly, and he has a touch of fever to
keep him warm. Good-night, little Hungary. Luck's with you to-night, to
get into this lady's house."

Downstairs by the fireside once more, the signs of his late occupation
removed, Burns stretched out an arm for his wife.

"Come sit beside me in the Retreat," he invited, using the name he had
long ago given to the luxurious blue couch where he was accustomed,
since his marriage, to rest and often to catch a needed nap. He drew the
winsome figure close within his arm, resting his red head against the
dark one below it. "I don't seem to feel particularly tired, now," he
observed. "Curious, isn't it? Fatigue, as I've often noticed, is more
mental than physical--with most of us. Your ditch-digger is tired in his
back and arms, but the ordinary person is merely tired because his mind
tells him he is."

"You are never too tired to rouse yourself for one patient more," was
Ellen's answer to this. "The last one seems to cure you of the one
before."

Burns's hearty laugh shook them both. "You can't make me out such an
enthusiast in my profession as that. I turned away two country calls
to-night--too lazy to make 'em."

"But you would have gone if they couldn't have found anybody else."

"That goes without saying--no merit in that. The ethics of the
profession have to be lived up to, curse 'em as we may, at times. Len,
how are we to get to know something about little Hungary upstairs? Those
eyes of his are going to follow me into my dreams to-night."

"I suppose there are Hungarians in town?"

"Not a one that I ever heard of. Plenty in the city, though. The waiter
at the Arcadia, where I get lunch when I'm at the hospital, is a Magyar.
By Jove, there's an idea! I'll bring Louis out, if Hungary can't get
into the hospital to-morrow--and I warn you he probably can't. I
shouldn't want him to take a twelve-mile ambulance ride in this weather.
That touch of fever may mean simple exhaustion, and it may mean look out
for pneumonia, after all the exposure he's had. I'd give something to
know how it came into his crazy head to stand and fiddle outside a
private house in a January storm. Why didn't he try a cigar shop or some
other warm spot where he could pass the hat? That's what Louis must find
out for me, eh? Len, that was great music of his, wasn't it? The fellow
ought to have a job in a hotel orchestra. Louis and I between us might
get him one."

Burns went to bed still working on this problem, and Ellen rejoiced that
it had superseded the anxieties of the past day. Next morning he was
early at the little foreigner's bedside, to find him resting quietly,
the fever gone, and only the intense fatigue remaining, the cure for
which was simply rest and food.

"Shall we let him stay till he's fit?" Burns asked his wife.

"Of course. Both Cynthia and Amy are much interested, and between them
he will have all he needs."

"And I'll bring Louis out, if I have to pay for a waiter to take his
place," promised Burns.

He was as good as his word. When he returned that afternoon from the
daily visit to the city hospital, where he had always many patients, he
brought with him in the powerful roadster which he drove himself a
dark-faced, pointed moustached countryman of little Hungary, who spoke
tolerable English, and was much pleased and flattered to be of service
to the big doctor whom he was accustomed to serve in his best manner.

Taken to the bedside, Louis gazed down at its occupant with
condescending but comprehending eyes, and spoke a few words which caused
the thin face on the pillow to break into smiles of delight, as the
eager lips answered in the same tongue. Question and answer followed in
quick succession and Louis was soon able to put Burns in possession of a
few significant facts.

"He say he come to dis countree October. Try find work New York--no
good. He start to valk to countree, find vork farm. Bad time. Seeck,
cold, hungree. Fear he spoil hands for veolinn--dat's vhy he not take
vork on road, vat he could get. He museecian--good one."

"Does he say that?" Burns asked, amused.

Louis nodded. "Many museecians in Hungary. Franz come from Budapest. No
poor museecians dere. Budapest great ceety--better Vienna, Berlin,
Leipsic--oh, yes! See, I ask heem."

He spoke to the boy again, evidently putting a meaning question, for
again the other responded with ardour, using his hands to emphasize his
assertion--for assertion it plainly was.

Louis laughed. "He say ze countree of Franz Liszt know no poor museeck.
He named for Franz Liszt. He play beeg museeck for you and ze ladee
last night. So?"

"He did--and took us off our feet. Tell him, will you?"

"He no un'erstand," laughed Louis, "eef I tell him 'off de feet.'"

"That's so--no American idioms yet for him, eh? Well, say he made us
very happy with his wonderful music. I'll wager that will get over to
him."

Plainly it did, to judge by the eloquence of Franz's eyes and his joyous
smile. With quick speech he responded.

"He say," reported Louis, "he vant to vork for you. No wagees till he
plees you. He do anyting. You van' heem?"

"Well, I'll have to think about that," Burns temporized. "But tell him
not to worry. We'll find a job before we let him go. He ought to play in
a restaurant or theatre, oughtn't he, Louis?"

Louis shook his head. "More men nor places," he said. "But ve see--ve
see."

"All right. Now ask him how he came to stand in front of my house in the
storm and fiddle."

To this Louis obtained a long reply, at which he first shook his head,
then nodded and laughed, with a rejoinder which brought a sudden rush of
tears to the black eyes below. Louis turned to Burns.

"He say man lead heem here, make heem stand by window, make sign to
heem to play. I tell heem man knew soft heart eenside."

To the edge of his coppery hair the blood rushed into the face of Red
Pepper Burns. Whether he would be angry or amused was for the moment an
even chance, as Ellen, watching him, understood. Then he shook his fist
with a laugh.

"Just wait till I catch that fellow!" he threatened. "A nice way out of
his own obligations to a starving fellow man."

He sent Louis back to town on the electric car line, with a round fee in
his pocket, and the instruction to leave no stone unturned to find Franz
work for his violin, himself promising to aid him in any plan he might
formulate.

In three days the young Hungarian was so far himself that Burns had him
downstairs to sit by the office fire, and a day more put him quite on
his feet. Careful search had discovered a temporary place for him in a
small hotel orchestra, whose second violin was ill, and Burns agreed to
take him into the city. The evening before he was to go, Ellen invited a
number of her friends and neighbours in to hear Franz play.

Dressed in a well-fitting suit of blue serge Franz looked a new being.
The suit had been contributed by Arthur Chester, Burns's neighbour and
good friend next door upon the right, and various other accessories had
been supplied by James Macauley, also Burns's neighbour and good friend
next door upon the left and the husband of Martha Macauley, Ellen's
sister. Even so soon the rest and good food had filled out the deepest
hollows in the emaciated cheeks, and happiness had lighted the sombre
eyes. Those eyes followed Burns about with the adoring gaze of a
faithful dog.

"It's evident you've attached one more devoted follower to your train,
Red," whispered Winifred Chester, in an interval of the violin playing.

"Well, he's a devotee worth having," answered Burns, watching his
protégé as Franz looked over a pile of music with Ellen, signifying his
pleasure every time they came upon familiar sheets. The two had found
common ground in their love of the most emotional of all the arts, and
Ellen had discovered rare delight in accompanying that ardent violin in
some of the scores both knew and loved.

"He's as handsome as a picture to-night, isn't he?" Winifred pursued.
"How Arthur's old blue suit transforms him. And wasn't it clever of
Ellen to have him wear that soft white shirt with the rolling collar and
flowing black tie? It gives him the real musician's look."

"Trust you women to work for dramatic effects," murmured Burns. "Here we
go--and I'll wager it'll be something particularly telling, judging by
the way they both look keyed up to it. Ellen plays like a virtuoso
herself to-night, doesn't she?"

"It's enough to inspire any one to have that fiddle at her shoulder,"
remarked James Macauley, who, hanging over the couch, had been listening
to this bit of talk.

The performance which followed captured them all, even practical and
energetic Martha Macauley, who had often avowed that she considered the
study of music a waste of time in a busy world.

"Though I think, after all," she observed to Arthur Chester, who lounged
by her side, revelling in the entertainment with the zest of the man who
would give his whole time to affairs like these if it were not necessary
for him to make a living at the practice of some more prosaic
profession, "it's quite as much the interest of having such a stagey
character performing for us as it is his music. Did you ever see any
human being throw his whole soul into anything like that? One couldn't
help but watch him if he weren't making a sound."

"It's certainly refreshing, in a world where we all try to cover up our
real feelings, to see anybody give himself away so naïvely as that,"
Chester replied. "But there's no doubt about the quality of his music.
He was born, not made. And, by George, Len certainly plays up to him. I
didn't know she had it in her, for all I've been admiring her
accomplishments for four years."

"Ellen's all temperament, anyway," said Ellen's sister.

Chester looked at her curiously. Martha was a fine-looking young woman,
in a very wholesome and clean-cut fashion. There was no feminine
artfulness in the way she bound her hair smoothly upon her head, none in
the plain cut of her simple evening attire, absolutely none in her
manner. Glancing from Martha to her sister, as he had often done before
in wonderment at the contrast between them, he noted as usual how
exquisitely Ellen was dressed, though quite as simply, in a way, as her
practical sister. But in every line of her smoke-blue silken frock was
the most subtle art, as Chester, who had a keen eye for such matters and
a fastidious taste, could readily recognize. From the crown of her dark
head to the toe of the blue slipper with which she pressed the pedal of
the great piano which she had brought from her old home in the South,
she was a picture to feast one's eyes upon.

"Give me temperament, then--and let some other fellow take the common
sense," mused Arthur Chester to himself. "Ellen has both, and Red's in
luck. It was a great day for him when the lovely young widow came his
way--and he knows it. What a home she makes him--what a home!"

His eyes roved about the beautiful living room, as they had often done
before. His own home, next door, was comfortable and more than
ordinarily attractive, but he knew of no spot in the town which
possessed the subtle charm of this in which he sat. His wife, Winifred,
was always trying to reproduce within their walls the indefinable
quality which belonged to everything Ellen touched, and always saying in
despair, "It's no use--Ellen is Ellen, and other people can't be like
her."

"Better let it go at that," her husband sometimes responded. "You're
good enough for me." Which was quite true, for Winifred Chester was a
peculiarly lovable young woman. He noted afresh to-night that beside
Martha Macauley's somewhat heavy good looks Winifred seemed a creature
of infinite and delightful variety.

Perhaps the music had made them all more or less analytic, for in an
interval James Macauley, comfortably ensconced in a great winged chair
for which he was accustomed to steer upon entering this room, where he
was nearly as much at home as within his own walls, remarked, "What is
there about music like that that sets you to thinking everybody in sight
is about the best ever?"

"Does it have that effect on you?" queried Burns, lazily, from the blue
couch. "That's a good thing for a fellow of a naturally critical
disposition."

"Critical, am I? Why, within a week I paid you the greatest compliment
in my power."

"Really!"

"If it hadn't been for me this company would never have been gathered,
to listen to these wondrous strains."

"How's that?" Burns turned on him a suddenly interested eye.

"Oh, I'm not telling. It's enough that the thing came about." Macauley
looked around for general approbation.

Red Pepper sat up. "It was you stood the poor beggar up under my window,
on that howling night, was it, Jim? I've been looking for the man that
did it."

"Why," said Macauley comfortably, "the chap asked me to point him to a
doctor's office--said he had a bit of a cold. I said you were the one
and only great and original M.D. upon earth, and as luck would have it
he was almost at your door. I said that if he didn't find you in he
should come over to my house and we would fix him up with cough drops.
He thanked me and passed on. As luck would have it you were in."

Red Pepper glared at him. A chuckle from Arthur Chester caused him to
turn his eyes that way. He scrutinized his guests in turn, and detected
signs of mirth. Winifred Chester's pretty shoulders were shaking. Martha
Macauley's lips were pressed close together. The others were all
smiling.

Burns turned upon Winifred, who sat nearest. "Tell me the truth about
this thing," he commanded.

She shook her head, but she got no peace until at length she gave him
the tale.

"Arthur and I were over at Jim's. He came in and said a wager was up
among some men outside as to whether if that poor boy came and fiddled
under your window you'd take him in and keep him over night. Somebody'd
been saying things against you, down street somewhere--" she hesitated,
glancing at her husband, who nodded, and said, "Go on--he'll have it out
of us now, anyhow."

"They said," she continued, "that you were the most brutal surgeon in
the State, and that you hadn't any heart. Some of them made this wager,
and they all sneaked up here behind the one that steered Franz to your
window."

Burns's quick colour had leaped to his face at this recital, as they
were all accustomed to see it, but for an instant he made no reply.
Winifred looked at him steadily, as one who was not afraid.

"We were all in a dark window watching. If you hadn't taken him in we
would. But--O Red! We knew--we knew that heart of yours."

"And who started that wager business?" Burns inquired, in a muffled
voice.

"Why, Jim, of course. Who else would take such a chance?"

"Was it a serious wager?"

"Of course it was."

"Even odds?"

"No, it was Jim against the crowd. And for a ridiculously high stake."

Red Pepper glared at James Macauley once more. "You old pirate!" he
growled. "How dared you take such a chance on me? And when you know I'm
death on that gambling propensity of yours?"

"I know you are," replied Macauley, with a satisfied grin. "And you know
perfectly well I haven't staked a red copper for a year. But that sort
of talk I overheard was too much for me. Besides, I ran no possible risk
for my money. I was betting on a sure thing."

Burns got up, amidst the affectionate laughter which followed this
explanation, and walked over to where Franz stood, his eager eyes fixed
upon his new and adored friend, who, he somehow divined, was the target
for some sort of badinage.

"Little Hungary," he said, smiling into the uplifted, boyish face, with
his hand on the slender shoulder, "it came out all right that time, but
don't you ever play under my window again in a January blizzard. If you
do, I'll kick you out into the storm!"



CHAPTER III

ANNE LINTON'S TEMPERATURE


"Is Doctor Burns in?"

"He's not in. He will be here from two till five this afternoon. Could
you come then?" Miss Mathewson regarded the young stranger at the door
with more than ordinary interest. The face which was lifted to her was
one of quite unusual beauty, with astonishing eyes under resolute dark
brows, though the hair which showed from under the small and
close-fitting hat of black was of a wonderful and contradictory colour.
It was almost the shade, it occurred to Amy Mathewson, of that which
thatched the head of Red Pepper Burns himself, but it was more
picturesque hair than his, finer of texture, with a hint of curl. The
mass of it which showed at the back as the stranger turned her head away
for a moment, evidently hesitating over her next course of action, had
in it tints of bronze which were more beautiful than Burns's coppery
hues.

"Would you care to wait?" inquired Miss Mathewson, entirely against her
own principles.

It was not quite one o'clock, and Burns always lunched in the city,
after his morning at the hospital, and reached home barely in time for
those afternoon village office hours which began at two. His assistant
did not as a rule encourage the arrival of patients in the office as
early as this, knowing that they were apt to become impatient and
aggrieved by their long wait. But something about the slightly drooping
figure of the girl before her, in her black clothes, with a small
handbag on her arm, and a look of appeal on her face, suggested to the
experienced nurse that here was a patient who must not be turned away.

The girl looked up eagerly. "If I might," she said in a tone of relief.
"I really have nowhere to go until I have seen the Doctor."

Miss Mathewson led her in and gave her the most comfortable chair in the
room, a big, half shabby leather armchair, near the fireplace and close
beside a broad table whereon the latest current magazines were arranged
in orderly piles. The girl sank into the chair as if its wide arms were
welcome after a weary morning. She looked up at Miss Mathewson with a
faint little smile.

"I haven't been sitting much to-day," she said.

"This first spring weather makes every one feel rather tired," replied
Amy, noting how heavy were the shadows under the brown eyes with their
almost black lashes--an unusual combination with the undeniably russet
hair.

From her seat at the desk, where she was posting Burns's day book, the
nurse observed without seeming to do so that the slim figure in the old
armchair sat absolutely without moving, except once when the head
resting against the worn leather turned so that the cheek lay next it.
And after a very short time Miss Mathewson realized that the waiting
patient had fallen asleep. She studied her then, for something about the
young stranger had aroused her interest.

The girl was obviously poor, for the black suit, though carefully
pressed, was of cheap material, the velvet on the small black hat had
been caught in more than one shower, and the black gloves had been many
times painstakingly mended. The small feet alone showed that their owner
had allowed herself one luxury, that of good shoes--and the daintiness
of those feet made a strong appeal to the observer.

As for the face resting against the chair back, it was flushed after a
fashion which suggested illness rather than health, and Miss Mathewson
realized presently that the respiration of the sleeper was not quite
what it should be. Whether this were due to fatigue or coming illness
she could not tell.

Half-past one! The first early caller was slowing a small motor at the
curb outside when Amy Mathewson gently touched the girl's arm. "Come
into the other room, please," she said.

The brown eyes opened languidly. The black-gloved hand clutched at the
handbag, and the girl rose. "I'm so sorry," she murmured. "I don't know
how I came to go to sleep."

"You were tired out. If I had known I should have brought you in here
before," Amy said, leading her into the consulting room. "It is still
half an hour before Doctor Burns will be in, and you must lie here on
his couch while you wait."

"Oh, thank you, but I ought not to go to sleep. I--have you just a
minute to spare? I should like to show you a little book I am selling--"

Miss Mathewson suffered a sudden revulsion of feeling. So this girl was
only a book agent. First on the list of what by two o'clock would be a
good-sized assemblage of waiting patients, she must not be allowed to
take Doctor Burns's time to exploit her wares. Yet, even as Amy
regretted having brought a book agent into this inner sanctum, the girl
looked up from searching in her handbag and seemed to recognize the
prejudice she had excited.

"Oh, but I'm a patient, too," she said with a little smile. "I didn't
expect to take the Doctor's time telling him about the book. But you--I
thought you might be interested. It's a little book of bedtime stories
for children. They are very jolly little tales. Would you care to see
it?"

Now Amy Mathewson was the fortunate or unfortunate--as you happen to
regard such things--possessor of a particularly warm heart, and the
result of this appeal was that she took the book away with her into the
outer office, promising to look it over if the seller of it would lie
down upon the couch and rest quietly. She was convinced that the girl
was much more than weary--she was very far from well. The revealing
light of that consulting room had struck upon the upturned face and had
shown Miss Mathewson's trained eyes certain signs which alarmed her.

So it came about that Red Pepper Burns, coming in ruddy from his
twelve-mile dash home, and feeling particularly fit for the labours of
the afternoon in consequence of having found every hospital patient of
his own on the road to recovery--two of them having taken a
right-about-face from a condition which the day before had pointed
toward trouble--discovered his first office patient lying fast asleep
upon the consulting room couch.

"She seemed so worn out I put her here," explained Miss Mathewson,
standing beside him. "She falls asleep the moment she is off her feet."

"Hm--m," was his reply as he thrust his arms into his white
office-jacket. "Well, best wake her up, though it seems a pity. Looks as
if she'd been on a hunger strike, eh?" he added under his breath.

Miss Mathewson had the girl awake again in a minute, and she sat up, an
expression of contrition crossing her face as she caught sight of the
big doctor at the other side of the room, his back toward her. When
Burns turned, at Amy's summons, he beheld the slim figure sitting
straight on the edge of the broad couch, the brown eyes fixed on him.

"Tired out?" he asked pleasantly. "Take this chair, please, so I can see
all you have to tell me--and a few things you don't tell me."

It did not take him long. His eyes on the face which was too flushed,
his fingers on the pulse which beat too fast, his thermometer
registering a temperature too high, all told him that here was work for
him. The questions he asked brought replies which confirmed his fears.
Nothing in his manner indicated, however, that he was doing considerable
quick thinking. His examination over, he sat back in his chair and began
a second series of questions, speaking in a more than ordinarily quiet
but cheerful way.

"Will you tell me just a bit about your personal affairs?" he asked. "I
understand that you come from some distance. Have you a home and
family?"

"No family--for the last two years, since my father died."

"And no home?"

"If I am ill, Doctor Burns, I will look after myself."

He studied her. The brown eyes met the scrutinizing hazel ones without
flinching. Whether or not the spirit flinched he could not be sure. The
hazel eyes were very kindly.

"You have relatives somewhere whom we might let know of this?"

She shook her head determinedly. Her head lifted ever so little.

"You are quite alone in the world?"

"For all present purposes--yes, Doctor Burns."

"I can't just believe," he said gently, "that it is not very important
to somebody to know if you are ill."

"It is just my affair," she answered with equal courtesy of manner but
no less finally. "Believe me, please--and tell me what to do. Shall I
not be better to-morrow--or in a day or two?"

He was silent for a moment. Then, "It is not a time for you to be
without friends," said Red Pepper Burns. "I will prove to you that you
have them at hand. After that you will find there are others. I am
going to take you to a pleasant place I know of, where you will have
nothing to do but to lie still and rest and get well. The best of nurses
will look after you. You will obey orders for a little--my orders, if
you want to trust me--"

"Where is this place?" The question was a little breathless.

"Where do you guess?"

"In--a hospital?"

"In one of the best in the world."

"I am--pretty ill then?"

"It's a bit of a wonder," said Burns in his quietest tone, "how you have
kept around these last four days. I wish you hadn't."

"If I hadn't," said the girl rather faintly, "I shouldn't have been in
this town and I shouldn't have come to Doctor Burns. So--I'm glad I
did."

"Good!" said Burns, smiling. "It's fine to start with the confidence of
one's patient. I'm glad you're going to trust me. Now we'll take you to
another room where you can lie down again till my office hours are over
and I can run into the city with you."

He rose, beckoning. But his patient protested: "Please tell me how to
get there. I can go perfectly well. My head is better, I think."

"That's lucky. But the first of my orders Miss Linton, is that you come
with me now."

He summoned Miss Mathewson, gave her directions, and dismissed the two.
In ten minutes the heavy eyes were again closed, while their owner lay
motionless again upon a bed in an inner room which was often used for
such purposes.

"I'm sorry I can't take her in now," Burns said to Amy presently in an
interval between patients. "I don't want to call the ambulance out here
for a walking case, and there's no need of startling her with it,
anyhow. I wish I had some way to send her."

"Mr. Jordan King just came into the office. His car is outside. Couldn't
he take her in?"

"Of course he could--and would, I've no doubt. He's only after his
mother's prescription. Send him in here next, will you, please?"

To the tall, well-built, black-eyed young man who answered this summons
in some surprise at being admitted before his turn, Burns spoke crisply:

"Here's the prescription, Jord, and you'll have to take it to Wood's to
get it filled. I hope it'll do your mother a lot of good, but I'm not
promising till I've tried it out pretty well. Now will you do me a
favour?"

"Anything you like, Doctor."

"Thanks. I'm sending a patient to the hospital--a stranger stranded here
ill. She ought not to be out of bed another hour, though she walked to
the office and would walk away again if I'd let her--which I won't. I
can't get off for three hours yet. Will you take her in to the Good
Samaritan for me? I'll telephone ahead, and some one will meet her at
the door. All right?"

He looked up. Jordan King--young civil engineer of rising reputation in
spite of the family wealth which would have made him independent of his
own exertions, if he could possibly have been induced by an adoring,
widowed mother to remain under her wing--stood watching him with a smile
on his character-betraying lips.

"You ought to have an executive position of some sort, Doctor Burns," he
observed, "you're so strong on orders. I've got mine. Where's the lady?
Do I have to be silent or talkative? Is she to have pillows? Am I to
help her out?"

"She'll walk out--but that and the walk in will be the last she'll take
for some time. Talk as much as you like; it'll help her to forget that
she's alone in the world at present except for us. Go out to your car;
I'll send her out with Miss Mathewson."

Burns turned to his desk, and King obediently went out. Five minutes
later, as he stood waiting beside his car, a fine but hard-used roadster
of impressive lines and plenty of power, the office nurse and her
patient emerged. King noted in some surprise the slender young figure,
the interest-compelling face with its too vivid colour in cheeks that
looked as if ordinarily they were white, the apparel which indicated
lack of means, though the bearing of the wearer unmistakably suggested
social training.

"I thought she'd be an elderly one somehow," he said in congratulation
of himself. "Jolly, what hair! Poor little girl; she does look sick--but
plucky. Hope I can get her in all right."

Outwardly he was the picture of respectful attention as Miss Mathewson
presented him, calling the girl "Miss Linton," and bidding him wrap her
warmly against the spring wind.

"I'll take the best care of her I know," he promised with a friendly
smile. He tucked a warm rug around her, taking special pains with her
small feet, whose well-chosen covering he did not fail to note. "All
right?" he asked as he finished.

"Very comfortable, thank you. It's ever so kind of you."

"Glad to do anything for Doctor Burns," King responded, taking his place
beside her. "Now shall we go fast or slow?"

"Just as you like, please. I don't feel very ill just now, and this air
is so good on my face."



CHAPTER IV

TWO RED HEADS


Jordan King set his own speed in the powerful roadster, reflecting that
Miss Linton, to judge from her worn black clothes, was probably not
accustomed to motoring and so making the pace a moderate one. Fast or
slow, it would not take long to cover the twelve miles over the
macadamized road to the hospital in the city, and if it was to be her
last bath in the good outdoors for some time, as the doctor had
said--King drew a long breath, filling his own sturdy lungs with the
balmy yet potent April air, feeling very sorry for the unknown little
person by his side.

"Would you rather I didn't talk?" he inquired when a mile or two had
been covered in silence.

She lifted her eyes to his, and for the first time he got a good look
into them. They were very wonderful eyes, and none the less wonderful
because of the fever which made them almost uncannily brilliant between
their dark lashes.

"Oh, I wish you would talk, if you don't mind!" she answered--and he
noted as he had at first how warmly pleasant were the tones of her
voice, which was a bit deeper than one would have expected. "I've heard
nobody talk for days--except to say they didn't care to buy my book."

"Your book? Have you written a book?"

"I'm selling one." This astonished him, but he did not let it show. It
was certainly enough to make any girl ill to have to go about selling
books. He wondered how it happened. She opened her handbag and took out
the small book. "I don't want to sell you one," she said. "You wouldn't
have any use for it. It's a little set of stories for children."

"But I do want to buy one," he protested. "I've a lot of nieces and
nephews always coming at me for stories."

She shook her head. "You can't buy one. I'd like to give you one if you
would take it, to show you how I appreciate this beautiful drive."

"Of course I'll take it," he said quickly, "and delighted at the
chance." He slipped the book into his pocket. "As for the drive, it's
much jollier not to be covering the ground alone. I wish, though--" and
he stopped, feeling that he was probably going to say the wrong thing.

She seemed to know what it would have been. "You're sorry to be taking
me to the hospital?" she suggested. "You needn't be. I didn't want to
go, just at first, but then--I felt I could trust the Doctor. He was so
kind, and his hair was so like mine, he seemed like a sort of big older
brother."

"Red Pepper Burns seems like that to a lot of people, including myself.
I don't look like much of a candidate for illness, but I've had an
accident or two, and he's pulled me through in great shape. You're right
in trusting him and you can keep right on, to the last ditch--" He
stopped short again, with an inward thrust at himself for being so
blundering in his suggestions to this girl, who, for all he knew, might
be on her way to that "last ditch" from which not even Burns could save
her.

But the girl herself seemed to have paused at his first phrase. "What
did you call the Doctor?" she asked, turning her eyes upon him again.

"What did I--oh! 'Red Pepper.' Yes--I've no business to call him that,
of course, and I don't to his face, though his friends who are a bit
older than I usually do, and people speak of him that way. It's his
hair, of course--and--well, he has rather a quick temper. People with
that coloured hair--But you're wrong in saying yours is like his," he
added quickly.

For the first time he saw a smile touch her lips. "So he has a quick
temper," she mused. "I'm glad of that--I have one myself. It goes with
the hair surely enough."

"It goes with some other things," ventured Jordan King, determined, if
he made any more mistakes, to make them on the side of encouragement.
"Pluck, and endurance, and keeping jolly when you don't feel so--if you
don't mind my saying it."

"One has to have a few of those things to start out into the world
with," said Miss Linton slowly, looking straight ahead again.

"One certainly does. Doctor Burns understands that as well as any man I
know. And he likes to find those things in other people." Then with
tales of some of the Doctor's experiences which young King had heard he
beguiled the way; and by the time he had told Miss Linton a story or two
about certain experiences of his own in the Rockies, the car was
approaching the city. Presently they were drawing up before the group of
wide-porched, long buildings, not unattractive in aspect, which formed
the hospital known as the Good Samaritan.

"It's a pretty good place," announced King in a matter-of-fact way,
though inwardly he was suffering a decided pang of sympathy for the
young stranger he was to leave within its walls. "And the Doctor said
he'd have some one meet us who knew all about you, so there'd be no
fuss."

He leaped out and came around to her side. She began to thank him once
more, but he cut her short. "I'm going in with you, if I may," he said.
"Something might go wrong about their understanding, and I could save
you a bit of bother."

She made no objection, and he helped her out. He kept his hand under her
arm as they went up the steps, and did not let her go until they were in
a small reception room, where they were asked to wait for a minute. He
realized now more than he had done before her weakness and the sense of
loneliness that was upon her. He stood beside her, hat in hand, wishing
he had some right to let her know more definitely than he had ventured
to do how sorry he was for her, and how she could count on his thinking
about her as a brother might while she was within these walls.

But Burns's message evidently had taken effect, as his messages usually
did, for after a very brief wait two figures in uniform appeared, one
showing the commanding presence of a person in authority, the other
wearing the pleasantly efficient aspect of the active nurse. Miss Linton
was to be taken to her room at once, the necessary procedure for
admittance being attended to later.

Miss Linton seemed to know something about hospitals, for she offered
instant remonstrance. "It's a mistake, I think," she said, lifting her
head as if it were very heavy, but speaking firmly. "I prefer not to
have a room. Please put me in your least expensive ward."

The person in authority smiled. "Doctor Burns said room," she returned.
"Nobody here is accustomed to dispute Doctor Burns's orders."

"But I must dispute them," persisted the girl. "I am not--willing--to
take a room."

"Don't concern yourself about that now," said the other. "You can settle
it with the Doctor when he comes by and by."

Jordan King inwardly chuckled. "I wonder if it's going to be a case of
two red heads," he said to himself. "I'll bet on R.P."

The nurse put her arm through Miss Linton's. "Come," she said gently.
"You ought not to be standing."

The girl turned to King, and put out her small hand in its mended glove.
He grasped it and dared to give it a strong pressure, and to say in a
low tone: "It'll be all right, you know. Keep a stiff upper lip. We're
not going to forget you." He very nearly said "I."

"Good-bye," she said. "I shall not forget how kind you've been."

Then she was gone through the big door, the tall nurse beside her
supporting steps which seemed suddenly to falter, and King was staring
after her, feeling his heart contract with sympathy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Four hours later Anne Linton opened her eyes, after an interval of
unconsciousness which had seemed to the nurse who looked in now and then
less like a sleep than a stupor, to find a pair of broad shoulders
within her immediate horizon, and to feel the same lightly firm pressure
on her wrist that she had felt before that afternoon. She looked up
slowly into Burns's eyes.

"Not so bad, is it?" said his low and reassuring voice. "Bed more
comfortable than doctor's office chairs? Won't mind if you don't ring
any door bells to-morrow? Just let everything go and don't worry--and
you'll be all right."

"This room--" began the weary young voice--she was really much more
weary now that she had stopped trying to keep up than seemed at all
reasonable--"I can't possibly--"

"It's just the place for you. Don't do any thinking on that point. You
know you agreed to take my orders, and this is one of them."

"But I can't possibly--"

"I said they were my orders," repeated Burns. "But that was a
misstatement. They're the orders of some one else, more powerful than I
am under this roof--and that's saying something, I assure you. I think
you'll have to meet my wife. She's come on purpose to see you. She was
away when you were at the office."

He beckoned, and another figure moved quietly into range of the brown
eyes which were smoldering with the first advances of the fever. This
figure came around to the other side of the narrow high bed and sat down
beside it. Miss Linton looked into the face, as it seemed to her, of one
of the most attractive women she had ever seen. It was a face which
looked down at her with the sweetest sympathy in its expression, and yet
with that same high cheer which was in the face of the man on the other
side of the bed.

"My dear little girl," said a low, rich voice, "this is my room, and I
often have the pleasure of seeing my special friends use it. And I come
to see them here. When you are getting well, as you will be by and by, I
can have much nicer talks with you than if you were in a ward. Now that
you understand, you will let me have my way?".

The burning brown eyes looked into the soft black ones for a full
minute, then, with a long-drawn breath, the tense expression in the
stranger's relaxed. "I see," said the weary voice. "You are used to
having your way--just as he is. I'll have to let you because I haven't
any strength left to fight with. You are wonderfully kind. But--I'm not
a little girl."

Ellen Burns smiled. "We'll play you are, for a while," she said. "And--I
want you to know that, little or big, you are my friend. So now you have
both Doctor Burns and me, and you are not alone any more."

The heavy lashes closed over the brown eyes, and the lids were held
tightly shut as if to keep tears back. Seeing this, Ellen rose.

"Red," she said, "are you going to let us have Miss Arden?"

"Won't anybody else do?"

"Do you need her badly somewhere else?"

"If there were ten of her I could use them all!" declared her husband
emphatically.

"Nevertheless--"

Red Pepper Burns got up. He summoned a nurse waiting just outside the
door. "Please send Miss Arden here for a minute," he requested. Then he
turned back. "Are you satisfied with your power?" he asked his wife.

She nodded. "Quite. But I think you feel, as I do, that this is one of
the ten places where she will be better than another."

"She's a wonder, all right."

The patient in the bed presently was bidden to look at her new nurse,
one who was to take care of her much of the time. She lifted her heavy
eyes unwillingly, then she drew another deep breath of relief. "I would
rather have you," she murmured to the serene brow, the kind eyes, the
gently smiling lips of the girl who stood beside her.

"There's a tribute," laughed Burns softly. "They all feel like that when
they look at you, Selina. And what Mrs. Burns wants she usually gets.
You may special this case to-night, if you are ready to begin night duty
again."

"I am quite ready," said Miss Arden.

Burns turned to the bed again. "You are in the best hands we have to
give you," he said. "You are to trust everything to those hands.
Good-night. I'll see you in the morning."

"Good-night, dear," whispered Mrs. Burns, bending for an instant over
the bed.

"Oh you angels!" murmured the girl as they left her, her eyes following
them.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was ten days later, in the middle of a wonderful night in early May,
that Miss Arden, beginning to be sure that the case which had interested
her so much was going to give her a hard time before it should be
through, listened to words which roused in her deeper wonder than she
had yet felt for the most unusual patient she had had in a long time.
Although there was as yet nothing that could be called real delirium, a
tendency to talk in a light-headed sort of way was becoming noticeable.
Sitting by the window, the one light in the room deeply shaded, she
heard the voice suddenly say:

     "This evens things up a little, doesn't it? I know a little
     more about it now--you must realize that, if you are keeping
     track of me--and I know you are--you would--even from another
     world. Things aren't fair--they aren't. That you should have
     to suffer all you did, to bring you to that pass--while I--But
     I know a good deal about it now--really I do. And I'm going to
     know more. I didn't sell a single book to-day. You had lots of
     such days, didn't you?
     Poor--pale--tired--heartsick--heartbroken girl!"

A little mirthless laugh sounded from the bed. "I wonder how many people
ever let a person who is selling something at the door get into the
house. And if they let her in, do they ever, _ever_ ask her to sit down?
The places where I've stood, telling them about the book, while they
were telling me they didn't want it--stood and stood--and stood--with
great easy chairs in sight! Oh, that chair in my doctor's office--it was
the first chair I'd sat in that whole morning. I went to sleep in it, I
think."

There followed a long silence, as if the thought of sleep had brought
it on. But then the rambling talk began again.

     "His hair is red--red, like mine. I think that's why his heart
     is so warm. Yet her heart is warm, too, and her hair is almost
     black. The other man's hair was pretty dark, too, and his
     heart seemed--well, not exactly cold. Did he send me some
     daffodils the other day? I can't seem to remember. It seems as
     if I had seen some--pretty things--lovely, springy things.
     Perhaps Mrs.--the red-headed doctor's wife--queer I can't
     think of their names--perhaps she sent them. It would be like
     her."

The nurse's glance wandered, in the faint light, to where a great jar of
daffodils stood upon the farther window sill, their heads nodding
faintly in the night breeze. Jordan King's card, which had come with
them, was tucked away in a drawer near by with two other cards, bearing
the same name, which had accompanied other flowers. Miss Arden doubted
if her patient realized who had sent any of them. Afterward--if there
was to be an afterward--she would show the cards to her. Miss Arden,
like many other people, knew Jordan King by reputation, for the family
was an old and established one in the city, and the early success of the
youngest son in a line not often taken up by the sons of such families
was noteworthy. Also he was good to look at, and Miss Arden,
experienced nurse though she was and devoted to her profession, had not
lost her appreciation of youth and health and good looks in those who
were not her patients.

Unexpectedly, at this hour of the night--it was well toward one
o'clock--the door suddenly opened very quietly and a familiar big figure
entered. Springing up to meet Doctor Burns, Miss Arden showed no
surprise. It was a common thing for this man, summoned to the hospital
at unholy hours for some critical case, to take time to look in on
another patient not technically in need of him.

The head on the pillow turned at the slight sound beside it. Two wide
eyes stared up at Burns. "You've made a mistake, I think," said the
patient's voice, politely yet firmly. "My doctor has red hair. I know
him by that. Your hair is black."

"I presume it is, in this light," responded Burns, sitting down by the
bed. "It's pretty red, though, by daylight. In that case will you let me
stay a minute?" His fingers pressed the pulse. Then his hand closed over
hers with a quieting touch. "Since you're awake," he said, "you may as
well have one extra bath to send you back to sleep."

The head on the pillow signified unwillingness. "I'd take one to please
my red-headed doctor, but not you."

"You'd do anything for him, eh?" questioned Burns, his eyes on the chart
which the nurse had brought him and upon which she was throwing the
light of a small flash. "Well, you see he wants you to have this bath;
he told me so."

"Very well, then," she said with a sigh. "But I don't like them. They
make me shiver."

"I know it. But they're good for you. They keep your red-headed doctor
master of the situation. You want him to be that, don't you?"

"He'd be that anyway," said she confidently.

Burns smiled, but the smile faded quickly. He gave a few brief
directions, then slipped away as quietly as he had come.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was well into the next week when one morning he encountered Jordan
King, who had been out of town for several days. King came up to him
eagerly. Since this meeting occurred just outside the hospital, where
Burns's car had been standing in its accustomed place for the last hour,
it might not have been a wholly accidental encounter.

King made no attempt to maneuver for information. Maneuvering with Red
Pepper Burns, as the young man was well aware, seldom served any
purpose but to subject the artful one to a straight exposure. He asked
his question abruptly.

"I want to hear how Miss Linton is doing. I'm just back from
Washington--haven't heard for a week."

Burns frowned. No physician likes to be questioned about his cases,
particularly if they are not progressing to suit him. But he answered,
in a sort of growl: "She's not doing."

King looked startled. "You mean--not doing well?"

"She's fighting for existence--and--slipping."

"But--you haven't given her up?"

Burns exploded with instant wrath. King might have known that question
would make him explode. "Given her up! Don't you know a red-headed fiend
like me better than that?"

"I know you're a bulldog when you get your teeth in," admitted Jordan
King, looking decidedly unhappy and anxious. "If I'm just sure you've
got 'em in, that's enough."

Burns grunted. The sound was significant.

King ventured one more question, though Red Pepper's foot was on his
starter, and the engine had caught the spark and turned over. "If
there's anything I could do," he offered hurriedly and earnestly.
"Supply a special nurse, or anything--"

Burns shook his head. "Two specials now, and half the staff interested.
It's up to Anne Linton and nobody else. If she can do the trick--she and
Nature--all right. If not--well--Thanks for letting go the car, Jord.
This happens to be my busy day."

Jordan King looked after him, his heart uncomfortably heavy. Then he
stepped into his own car and drove away, taking his course down a side
street from which he could get a view of certain windows. They were wide
open to the May breeze and the sunshine, but no pots of daffodils or
other flowers stood on their empty sills. He knew it was useless to send
them now.

"But if she does pull through," he said to himself between his teeth,
"I'll bring her such an armful of roses she can't see over the top of
'em. God send I get the chance!"



CHAPTER V

SUSQUEHANNA


Red Pepper Burns drove into the vine-covered old red barn behind his
house which served as his garage, and stopped his engine with an air of
finality.

"Johnny," said he, addressing the young man who was accustomed to drive
with him--and for him when for any reason he preferred not to drive
himself, which was seldom--and who kept the car in the most careful
trim, "not for man or beast, angel or devil will I go out again
to-night."

Johnny Carruthers grinned. "No, sir," he replied. "Not unless they
happen to want you," he added.

"Not if they offer me a thousand dollars for the trip," growled his
master.

"You would for a dead beat, though," suggested the devoted servant, who
by virtue of five years of service knew whereof he spoke, "if he'd
smashed his good-for-nothin' head."

"Not if he'd smashed his whole blamed body--so long as there was
another surgeon in the county who could do the job."

"That's just the trouble," argued Johnny. "You'd think there wasn't."

Red Pepper looked at him. "Johnny, you're an idiot!" he informed him.
Then he strode away toward the house.

As he went into his office the telephone rang. The office was empty, for
it was dinner-time, and Miss Mathewson was having a day off duty on
account of her mother's illness. So, unhappily for the person at the
other end of the wire, the Doctor himself answered the ring. It had been
a hard day, following other hard days, and he was feeling intense
fatigue, devastating depression, and that unreasoning irritability which
is born of physical weariness and mental unrest.

"Hello," shouted the victim of these disorders into the transmitter.
"What?... No, I can't.... What?... No. Get somebody else.... What?... I
can't, I say.... Yes, you can. Plenty of 'em.... What?... Absolutely
_no_! Good-bye!"

"I ought to feel better after that," muttered Burns, slamming the
receiver on the hook. "But somehow I don't."

In two minutes he was splashing in a hot bath, as always at the end of a
busy day. From the tub he was summoned to the telephone, the upstairs
extension, in his own dressing room. With every red hair erect upon his
head after violent towelling, he answered the message which reached his
unwilling ears.

"What's that? Worse? She isn't--it's all in her mind. Tell her she's all
right. I saw her an hour ago. What?... Well, that's all imagination, as
I've told her ten thousand times. There's absolutely nothing the matter
with her heart.... No, I'm not coming--she's not to be babied like
that.... No, I won't. Good-bye!"

The door of the room softly opened. A knock had preceded the entrance of
Ellen, but Burns hadn't heard it. He eyed her defiantly.

"Do you feel much, much happier now?" she asked with a merry look.

"If I don't it's not the fault of the escape valve. I pulled it wide
open."

"I heard the noise of the escaping steam." She came close and stood
beside him, where he sat, half dressed and ruddy in his bathrobe. He put
up both arms and held her, lifting his head for her kiss, which he
returned with interest.

"That's the first nice thing that's happened to me to-day--since the one
I had when I left you this morning," he remarked. "I'm all in to-night,
and ugly as a bear, as usual. I feel better, just this minute, with you
in my arms and a bath to the good, but I'm a beast just the same, and
you'd best take warning.... Oh, the--"

For the telephone bell was ringing again. From the way he strode across
the floor in his bathrobe and slippers it was small wonder that the
walls trembled. His wife, watching him, felt a thrill of sympathy for
the unfortunate who was to get the full force of that concussion. With a
scowl on his brow he lifted the receiver, and his preliminary "Hello!"
was his deepest-throated growl. But then the scene changed. Red Pepper
listened, the scowl giving place to an expression of a very different
character. He asked a quick question or two, with something like a most
unaccustomed breathlessness in his voice, and then he said, in the
businesslike but kind way which characterized him when his sympathies
were roused:

"I'll be there as quick as I can get there. Call Doctor Buller for me,
and let Doctor Grayson know I may want him."

Rushing at the completion of his dressing he gave a hurried explanation,
in answer to his wife's anxious inquiry, "It isn't Anne Linton?"

"It's worse, it's Jord King. He's had a bad accident--confound his
recklessness! I'm afraid he's made a mess of it this time for fair,
though I can't be sure till I get there."

"Where is he?" Ellen's face had turned pale.

"At the hospital. His man Aleck is hurt, too. Call Johnny, please, and
have him bring the car around and go with me."

Ellen flew, and five minutes later watched her husband gulp down a cup
of the strong coffee Cynthia always made him at such crises when, in
spite of fatigue, he must lose no time nor adequately reënforce his
physical energy with food.

"Oh, I'm so sorry you couldn't rest to-night," she said as he set down
the cup and, pulling his hat over his eyes, picked up the heavy surgical
bags.

"Couldn't, anyway, with the universe on my mind, so I might as well keep
going," was Burns's gruff reply, though the kiss he left on her lips was
a long one and spoke his appreciation of her tender comradeship.

She did not see him again till morning, though she lay awake many hours.
He came in at daylight; she heard the car go in at the driveway, and,
rising hurriedly, was ready to meet him when he came into the living
room downstairs.

"Up so early?" questioned Burns as he saw her. The next minute he had
folded her in one of those strong-armed embraces which speak of a glad
return to one whose life is a part of one's own. "I wonder," he
murmured, with his cheek pressed to hers, "if a man ever came back to
sweeter arms than these!"

But she knew, in spite of this greeting, that his heart was heavy. Her
own heart sank. But she waited, asking no questions. He would tell her
when he was ready.

He drew her down upon the couch beside him and sat with his arm around
her. "No, I don't want to lie down just yet," he said. "I just want you.
I'm keeping you in suspense, I know; I oughtn't to do that. Jord's life
is all right, and he'll be himself again in time, but--well, I've lost
my nerve for a bit--I can't talk about it."

His voice broke. By and by it steadied again; and, his weariness
partially lifted by the heartening little breakfast Ellen brought him on
a tray, he told her the story of the night:

"Jord was coming in from the Coldtown Waterworks, forty miles out, late
for dinner and hustling to make up time. Aleck, the Kings' chauffeur,
was with him. They were coming in at a good clip, even for a back
street, probably twenty-five or thirty. There wasn't much on the street
except ahead, by the curb, a wagon, and coming toward him a big motor
truck. When he was fifty feet from the wagon a fellow stepped out from
behind it to cross the street. It was right under the arc light, and
Jord recognized Franz--'Little Hungary' you know--with his fiddle under
his arm, crossing to go in at the stage door of the Victoria Theatre,
where he plays. The boy didn't see them at all.

"Neither Jord nor Aleck can tell much about it yet, of course, but from
the little I got I know as well as if I had been there what happened. He
slammed on the brakes--it was the only thing he could do, with the motor
truck taking up half the narrow street. The pavement was wet--a shower
was just over. Of course she skidded completely around to the left, just
missing the truck, and when she hit the curb over she went. She jammed
Jord between the car and the ground, injuring his back pretty badly but
not permanently, as nearly as I can make out. But she crushed Aleck's
right arm so that--"

He drew a long breath, a difficult breath, and Ellen, listening, cried
out against the thing she instantly felt it meant.

"O Red! You don't mean--"

He nodded. "I took it off, an hour afterward--at the shoulder."

Ellen turned white, and in a moment more she was crying softly within
the shelter of her husband's arm. He sat with set lips, and eyes staring
at the empty fireplace before him. Presently he spoke again, and his
voice was very low, as if he could not trust it:

"Aleck was game. He was the gamest chap I ever saw. All he said when I
told him was, 'Go ahead, Doctor.' I never did a harder thing in all my
life. I suppose army surgeons get more or less used to it, but
somehow--when I knew what that arm meant to Aleck, and how an hour
before it had been a perfect thing, and now--"

He did not try to tell her more just then, but later, when both were
steadied, he added a few more important details to the story:

"Franz went to the hospital with them--wouldn't leave them--ran the risk
of losing his position. Do you know, Jord has been teaching that boy
English, evenings, and naturally Franz adores him. I suppose Jord would
have taken that skid for any blamed beggar who got in his way, but of
course it didn't take any force off the way he jammed on those brakes
when he saw it was a friend he was going to hit. And a friend he was
going to maim--pretty hard choice to make, wasn't it? But of course it
was sure death to Franz if he hit him, at that pace, so there was
nothing else to do but take the chance for himself and Aleck. Maybe you
can guess, though, how he feels about Aleck. One wouldn't think he knew
he'd been cruelly hurt himself."

"Oh! I thought--"

"Jord's back will give him a lot of trouble for a while, but his spine
isn't seriously injured, if I know my trade. Altogether--well--the
nurses have got a couple of interesting cases on their hands for a
while. No doubt Aleck will be well looked after. As for Jord--he'll be
so much the more helpless of the two for a while, I'm afraid he'll prove
a distraction that will demoralize the force."

He smiled faintly for the first time, but his face sobered again
instantly.

"Anne Linton's pretty weak, but she took a little nourishment sanely
this morning just before I came away. Miss Arden feels a trifle
encouraged. I confess this thing of Jord's has knocked the girl out of
my mind for the time being, though I shall get her back again fast
enough, if I don't find things going right when I see her. Well"--he
turned his wife's face toward him, with a hand against her cheek--"it's
all out now, and I'm eased a bit by the telling. I wish I could get
forty winks, just to make a break between last night and this morning."

"You shall. Lie down and I'll put you to sleep."

He did not think it possible, in spite of his exhaustion, but presently
under her quieting touch he was over the brink, greatly to Ellen's
relief. Her heart contracted with love and sympathy as she watched his
face. It was a weary face, now in its relaxation, and there were heavy
shadows under the closed eyes. Every now and then a frown crossed the
broad brow, as if the sleeper were not wholly at ease, could not forget,
even in his dreams, what he had had to do a few hours ago. She thought
of young Aleck with his manly, smiling face, his pride in keeping Jordan
King's car as fine and efficient beneath its hood--mud-splashed though
it often was without--as he did the shining limousine he drove for Mrs.
Alexander King, Jordan's mother. She thought of what it must be to him
now to know that he was maimed for life. As for King himself, she knew
him well enough to understand how his own injuries would count for
little beside his distress in having had to deal the blow which had
crushed that strong young arm of Aleck's. Her heart ached for them
both--and even for poor Franz, weeping at having been the innocent cause
of all this havoc.

Two hours' sleep did his wife secure for Burns before he woke, stoutly
avowing himself fit for anything again, and setting off, immediately
breakfast was over, for the place to which his thoughts had leaped with
his first return to consciousness.

"Can't rest till I see old Jord. Did I tell you that he insisted on
Aleck's having the room next his, precisely as big and airy as his own?
There's a door between, and when it's open they can see each other. When
I left Jord the door was open, and he was staring in at Aleck, who was
still sleeping off the anesthetic, and a big tear was running down
Jord's cheek. He can't stir himself, but that doesn't seem to bother him
any. He's going to suffer a lot of pain with his back, but he'll suffer
ten times more looking at that bandaged shoulder of Aleck's."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was four days later that Ellen saw King. She was prepared to find
him, as Burns had called him, "game," but she had not known just all
that term means among men when it is applied to such a one as he. If he
had been receiving her after having suffered a bad wrench of the ankle
he could not have treated the occasion more simply.

"This is mighty good of you," he said, reaching up a well-developed
right arm from his bed, where he lay flat on his back without so much as
a pillow beneath his head. His hair was carefully brushed, his bandages
were concealed, his lips were smiling, and altogether he was, except for
his prostrate position, no picture of an invalid.

"I've just been waiting to come," she said, returning the firm pressure
of his hand with that of both her own.

"And meanwhile you've kept me reminded of you by these wonderful
flowers," he said with a nod toward the ranks on ranks of roses which
crowded table and window sills.

"Oh, but not all those!" she denied. "I might have known you would be
deluged with them. Daisies and buttercups out of the fields would have
been better."

"No, because those you sent look like you. Doctor Burns won't grudge me
the pleasure of saying now what I like to his wife--and it's the first
time I've really dared tell you what I thought."

"What a charming compliment! But I'm going to send you something much
more substantial now--good things to eat, and books to read, if I can
just find out what you like--and even games to play, if you care for
them."

"I'll be delighted, if they're something Aleck and I can play together.
You see when that door is open we aren't far apart, and it won't be
long, Doctor Burns says, before he'll be walking in here to keep me
company--till he gets out."

"He is doing well, I hear. I'm so glad."

"Yes, that husky young constitution of his is telling finely--plus your
husband's surgery. My poor boy!" He shut his lips upon the words, and
kept them closely pressed together for an instant. "My word, Mrs.
Burns--he's the stuff that heroes are made of! His living to earn for
the rest of his life--with one arm--and you'd think he'd lost the tip of
one finger. If ever I let that boy go out of my employ--why, he's worth
more as a shining example of pluck than other men are worth with two
good arms!"

"I must go and see him--if he'd care to have me."

"He'd take it as the honour of his life. He's crazy over the flowers you
sent him."

"Would he care for books? And what sort? I'm going to bring both of you
books."

"Stories of adventure will suit Aleck--the wilder the better. Odd
choice--for such a peaceable-looking fellow, isn't it? As for
me--something I'll have to work hard to listen to, something to keep an
edge on my mind. I've counted the cracks in the ceiling till I have a
map of them by heart. I've worked out a system by which I can drain that
ceiling country and raise crops there. There isn't much else in this
room that I can count or lay out--worse luck! So I've named all the
roses, and have wagers with myself as to which will fade first. I'm
betting on Susquehanna, that big red one, to outlast all the rest."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Red Pepper looked in half an hour later, it was to find the door
open between the two rooms, and his wife listening, smiling, to an
incident of the night just past, as told by first one patient and then
the other. The two young men might have been two comrades lying beside a
campfire, so gay was their jesting with each other, so light their
treatment of the wakeful hours both had spent.

"No, there's nothing the matter with either of them," observed Burns,
looking from one bedside to the other. "Franz is the chap with the heavy
heart; these two are just enjoying a summer holiday. But I'm not going
to keep the communication open long at a time, as yet."

He went in to see Aleck, closing the door again. When he returned he
took up a position at the foot of King's bed, regarding him in silence.
Ellen looked up at her husband. There was something in his face which
had not been there of late--a curiously bright look, as if a cloud were
lifted. She studied him intently, and when he returned the scrutiny she
raised her eyebrows in an interrogation. He nodded, smiling quizzically.

"Jord," he said, "if you want to keep your secrets to yourself, beware
of letting any woman come within range. My wife has just read me as if I
were an open book in large black type."

"Bound in scarlet and gold," added Ellen. "Tell us, Red. You really have
good news?"

"The best. I am pretty confident Anne Linton has turned the corner. I
hoped it yesterday, but wasn't sure enough to say so. Did you know that,
too?"

"Of course. But you were in small type yesterday. To-day he who runs may
read. You would know it yourself, wouldn't you, Jordan?"

The man in the bed studied the man who stood at its foot. The two
regarded each other as under peculiar circumstances men do who have a
strong bond of affection and confidence between them.

"He's such a bluffer," said King. "I hadn't supposed anybody could tell
much about what he was thinking. But I do see he looks pretty jolly this
morning, and I don't imagine it's all bluff. I'm certainly glad to hear
Miss Linton is doing well."

"Doing well isn't exactly the phrase even now," admitted Red Pepper.
"There are lots of things that can happen yet. But the wind and waves
have floated her little craft off the rocks, and the leaks in the boat
are stopped. If she doesn't spring any more, and the winds continue
favourable, we'll make port."

Jordan King looked as happy as if he had been the brother of this
patient of Burns's, whom neither of them had known a month ago, and whom
one of them had seen but once.

"That's great," he said. "I haven't dared to ask since I came here
myself, knowing how poor the prospects were the last time I did ask. I
was afraid I should surely hear bad news. When can we begin to send her
flowers again? Couldn't I send some of mine? I'd like her to have
Susquehanna there, and Rappahannock--and I think Arapahoe and Apache
will run them pretty close on lasting. Would you mind taking them to her
when you go?" His eyes turned to Mrs. Burns.

"I'd love to, but I shall not dare to tell her you are here, just yet.
She is very weak, isn't she, Red?"

"As a starved pussy cat. The flowers won't hurt her, but we don't want
to rouse her sympathies as yet."

"I should say not. Don't mention me; just take her the posies,"
instructed King, his cheek showing a slight access of colour.

"You won't know whether Susquehanna wins your wager or not," Ellen
reminded him as she obediently separated the indicated blooms,
magnificent great hothouse specimens with stems like pillars. That the
finest of all these roses, not excepting those she had sent herself, had
come from private greenhouses, she well knew. The Kings lived in the
centre of the wealthiest quarter of the city, though not themselves
possessed of more than moderate riches. Their name, however, was an old
and honoured one, Jordan himself was a favourite, and none in the city
was too important to be glad to be admitted at his home.

"Anything more I can do for you before I go?" inquired Burns of his
patient when Ellen had gone, smiling back at King from over the big
roses and promising to keep track of Susquehanna for him in her daily
visits.

"Nothing, thank you. You did it all an hour ago, and left me more
comfortable than I expected to be just yet. I'm not sure whether it was
the dressing or the visit that did me the most good."

"You're a mighty satisfactory sort of patient. That good clean blood of
yours is telling already in your recovery from shock. It tells in
another way, too."

"What's that?"

"Sheer pluck."

King's eyelids fell. It meant much to him to stand well in the
estimation of this man, himself distinguished for the cool daring of his
work, his endurance of the hard drudgery of his profession as well as
the brilliant performance on occasion. "I'm glad you think so--Red
Pepper Burns," King answered daringly. Then, as the other laughed, he
added: "Do you know what would make me the most docile patient you could
ask?"

"Docile doesn't seem just the word for you--but I'd be glad to know, in
case of emergency."

"Let me call you that--the name your best friends have for you. It's a
bully name. I know I'm ten years younger--but--"

"Good lack! Jordan King, call me anything you like! I'll appreciate it."

"You've no idea how long I've wanted to do it--Red," vowed the younger
man, with the flush again creeping into his cheek.

"Why didn't you long ago?" Burns demanded. "Surely dignity's no
characteristic of mine. If Anne Linton can call me 'Red Head' on no
acquaintance at all--"

"She didn't do that!" King looked a little as if he had received a blow.

"Only when she was off her head, of course. She took me for a wildcat
once, poor child. No, no--when she was sane she addressed me very
properly. She's back on the old decorous ground now. Made me a beautiful
little speech this morning, informing me that I had to stop calling her
'little girl,' for she was twenty-four years old. As she looks about
fifteen at the present, and a starved little beggar at that, I found it
a bit difficult to begin on 'Miss Linton,' particularly as I have been
addressing her as 'Little Anne' all the time."

"Starved?" King seemed to have paused at this significant word.

"Oh, we'll soon fill her out again. She's really not half so thin as
she might be under the old-style treatment. It strikes me you have a
good deal of interest in my patients, Jord. Shall I describe the rest of
them for you?"

Burns looked mischievous, but King did not seem at all disturbed.

"Naturally I am interested in a girl you made me bring to the hospital
myself. And at present--well--a fellow feeling, you know. I see how it
is myself now. I didn't then."

"True enough. Well, I'll bring you daily bulletins from Miss Anne. And
when she's strong enough I'll break the news to her of your proximity.
Doubtless your respective nurses will spend their time carrying flowers
back and forth from one of you to the other."

"More than likely," King admitted. "Anything to fill in the time. I'm
sorry I can't take her out in my car when she's ready. I've been
thinking, Doctor--Red," he went on hastily, "that there's got to be some
way for Aleck to drive that car in the future. I'm going to work out a
scheme while I lie here."

"Work out anything. I'll prophesy right now that as soon as you get
fairly comfortable you'll think out more stuff while you're lying on
your back than you ever did in a given period of time before. It won't
be lost time at all; it'll be time gained. And when you do get back on
your legs--no, don't ask me when that'll be, I can't tell nor any other
fellow--but when you do get back you'll make things fly as they never
did before--and that's going some."

"You _are_ a great bluffer, but I admit that I like the sound of it,"
was King's parting speech as he watched Burns depart.

On account of this latest interview he was able to bear up the better
under the immediately following visit of his mother, an
aristocratic-looking, sweet-faced but sad-eyed lady, who could not yet
be reconciled to that which had happened to her son, and who visited him
twice daily to bring hampers of fruit, food, and flowers, in quantity
sufficient to sustain half the patients in a near-by ward. She
invariably shed a few quiet tears over him which she tried vainly to
conceal, addressed him in a mournful tone, and in spite of his efforts
to cheer her managed to leave behind her after each visit an atmosphere
of depression which it took him some time and strength to overcome.

"Poor mother, she can't help it," philosophized her son. "What stumps
me, though, is why one who takes life so hard should outlive a man like
my father, who was all that is brave and cheerful. Perhaps it took it
out of him to be always playing the game boldly against her fears. But
even so--give me the bluffers, like Red Pepper--and like Mrs. Red.
Jove! but she's a lovely woman. No wonder he adores her. So do I--with
his leave. And so does Anne Linton, I should imagine. Poor little
girl--what does she look like, I wonder?"

If he could have seen her at that moment, holding Susquehanna against
her hollow young cheek, the glowing flower making the white face a
pitiful contrast, he would have been even more touched than he could
have imagined. Also--he would have felt that his wager concerning
Susquehanna was likely to be lost. It is not conducive to the life of a
rose to be loved and caressed as this one was being. But since it was
the first of her flowers that Anne Linton had been able to take note of
and enjoy, it might have been considered a life--and a wager--well lost.



CHAPTER VI

HEAVY LOCAL MAILS


Anne Linton lifted her head ever so little from the allowed incline of
her pillow in the Good Samaritan Hospital. She peered anxiously at the
tray being borne toward her by Selina Arden, most scrupulously
conscientious of all trained nurses, and never more rigidly exact than
when the early diet of patients in convalescence was concerned.

"Is that all?" murmured Anne in a tone of anguish.

"All!" replied Miss Arden firmly. But she smiled, showing her perfect
white teeth--and showing also her sympathy by the tone in which she
added: "Poor child!"

"Shall I never, never, never," asked the patient, hungrily surveying the
tray at close range, "have enough just to dull these pangs a little? Not
enough to satisfy me, of course, but just enough to take the edge off?"

"Very soon now," replied Miss Arden cheerily, "you shall have a pretty
good-sized portion of beefsteak, juicy and tender, and you shall eat it
all up--"

"And leave not a wrack behind," moaned Anne Linton, closing her eyes.
"But you are wrong, Miss Arden--I shall not eat it, I shall _gulp_
it--the way a dog does. I always wondered why a dog has no manners about
eating. I know now. He is so hungry his eyes eat it first, so his mouth
has no chance. Well, I'm certainly thankful for the food on this tray.
It's awfully good--what there is of it."

She consumed it, making the process as lingering as was consistent with
the ravaging appetite which was a real torture. When the last mouthful
had vanished she set her eyes upon the clock--the little travelling
clock which was Miss Arden's and which had ticked busily and cheerfully
through all those days of illness when Anne's eyes had never once lifted
to notice the passage of time.

"I was so long about it," said the girl gleefully, "that now it's only
two hours and forty minutes to the next refreshment station. I expect I
can keep on living till then if I use all my will power."

"And here's something to make you forget how long two hours and forty
minutes are."

Miss Arden went to the door and, returning, laid suddenly in Anne's arms
a great, fragrant mass of white bloom, at the smell and touch of which
she gave a half-smothered cry of rapture, and buried her face in the
midst of it. "White lilacs--oh, white lilacs! The dears--the loves! Oh,
where _did_ they come from?"

"There's a note that came with them," admitted Miss Arden presently,
when she had let the question go unanswered for some time, while Anne,
seeming to forget that she had asked it, smelled and smelled of the cool
white and green branches as if she could never have enough of them. Into
her eyes had leaped a strange look, as if some memory were connected
with these outdoor flowers which made them different for her from the
hothouse blooms, or even from the daffodils and tulips that had
alternated with the roses which had come often since her convalescence
began.

Anne reached up an eager hand for the note, a look of surprise on her
face. Miss Arden, looking back at her, noted how each day was helping to
remove the pallor and wanness from that face. At the moment, under the
caress of the lilacs and the surprise of the impending note, it was
showing once more a decided touch of its former beauty. Also she was
wearing a little invalid's wrap of lace and pink silk, given her by Mrs.
Burns, and this helped the effect.

Anne unfolded the note. Miss Arden went away with the empty tray, and
remained away some time. Miss Arden, as has been said before, was a
most remarkable nurse.

The note read thus:

     The Next Corridor, 10:30 A.M.

     DEAR MISS LINTON:

     The time has come, it seems to me, for two patients who have
     nothing to do but while away the hours for a bit longer, to
     help each other out. What do you say? I suppose you don't know
     that I've been lying flat on my back now for a fortnight,
     getting over a rather bad spill from my car. I'm pretty
     comfortable now, thank you, so don't waste a particle of
     sympathy; but the hours must certainly drag for you as they do
     for me, and my idea is that we ought to establish some sort of
     system of intercommunication. I have an awfully obliging
     nurse, and a young man with a fiddle here besides, and I'd
     like to send you a short musicale when you feel up to it. Are
     you fond of music? I have a notion you are. Franz will come
     and play for you whenever you say. But besides that I'd
     awfully like to have a note from you as soon as you are able
     to write. I'll answer it, you know--and then you'll answer
     that, perhaps--and so the hours will go by. I know this is a
     rather free-and-easy-sounding proposition from a perfect
     stranger, as I suppose you think me, but circumstances do
     alter cases, you know, and if our circumstances can't alter
     our cases, then it's no good being laid up!

     Hearty congratulations on that raging appetite. You see Doctor
     Burns is good enough to keep me informed as to how you come
     on. You certainly seem to be coming on now. Please keep it up.
     I shouldn't dare ask you to write to me if the Doctor hadn't
     said you could--if you wouldn't do it enough to tire you.
     So--I'm hoping.

     Yours, under the same roof,

     JORDAN KING.

"Good morning!" said a beloved voice from the doorway. Anne looked up
eagerly from her letter.

"Oh, Mrs. Burns--good morning! And won't you please stand quite still
for a minute while I look at you?"

Ellen laughed. To other people than Anne Linton she was always the
embodiment of quiet charm in her freshness of attire and air of general
daintiness. In the pale gray and white of her summer clothing, with a
spray of purple lilac tucked into her belt, she was a vision to rest the
eye upon. "You are looking ever so well yourself to-day," Ellen said as
she sat down close beside Anne, facing her. "Another week and you will
be showing us what you really look like."

"The little pink cover-up does me as much good as anything," declared
Anne. "I never thought I could wear pink with my carroty hair. But Miss
Arden says I can wear anything you say I can, and I believe her."

"Your hair is bronze, not carroty, and that apricot shade of pink tones
in with it beautifully. What a glorious mass of white lilacs! I never
saw any so fine."

"They're wonderful. I insisted on keeping them right here, I'm so fond of
the fragrance. They came from Mr. King," said Anne frankly. "And a note
from him says he's here in the hospital with an injured back. I'm so
sorry. Please tell me how badly he is hurt."

"He will have to be patient for some weeks longer, I believe, but there
is no permanent injury. Meanwhile, he is like any man confined, restless
for want of occupation. Still, he keeps his time pretty full." And Ellen
proceeded to recount the story of Franz, and of how Jordan King was
continuing here in the hospital to teach him to speak English, finding
him the quickest and most grateful of pupils.

"How splendid of him! He's going to send Franz to play for me. I can't
think of anything--except beefsteak--I should like so much!" and Anne
laughed, her face all alight with interest. But the next instant it
sobered. "Mrs. Burns," she said, "there's something I want to say very
much, and so far the Doctor hasn't let me. But I'm quite strong enough
now to begin to make plans, and one of them is this: The minute I'm able
to leave the hospital I want to go to some inexpensive place where I can
stay without bothering anybody. You have all been so wonderful to me I
can never express my gratitude, but I'm beginning to feel--oh, can't you
guess how anxious I am to be taking care of myself again? And I want you
to know that I have quite money enough to do it until I can go on with
my work."

Mrs. Burns looked at her. In the excitement of talking the girl's face
looked rounder and of a better colour than it had yet shown, and her
eyes were glowing, eyes of such beauty as are not often seen. But for
all that, she seemed like some lovely child who could no more take care
of itself than could a newborn kitten. Ellen laid one hand on hers.

"You are not to think about such things yet, dear," she said. "Do you
imagine we have not grown very fond of you, and would let you go off
into some place alone before you are fully yourself again? Not a bit of
it. As soon as you can leave here you are coming to me as my guest. And
when you are playing tennis with Bob, on our lawn, you may begin to talk
about plans for the future."

Anne stared back at her, a strange expression on her face. "Oh, no!" she
breathed.

"Oh, yes! You can't think how I am looking forward to it. Meanwhile--you
are not to tire yourself with talking. I only stopped for a minute, and
the Doctor is waiting by now. Good-bye, my dear." And before Anne could
protest she was gone, having learned, by experience, that the way to
terminate useless argument with the one who is not strong enough to be
allowed to argue is by making early escape.

That afternoon, having recovered from the two surprises of the morning,
Anne asked for pencil and paper. Miss Arden, supplying them, stipulated
that their use should cover but five minutes.

"It is one of the last things we let patients do," she said, "though it
is the thing they all want to do first. There is nothing so tiring as
letter writing."

"I'm not going to write a letter," Anne replied, "just a hail to a
fellow sufferer. Only I'm no sufferer, and I'm afraid he is."

She wrote her note, and it was presently handed to Jordan King. He had
wondered very much what sort of answer he should have, feeling that
nothing could reveal the sort of person this girl was so surely as a
letter, no matter how short. He had been sure he recognized education in
her speech, breeding in her manner, high intelligence as well as beauty
in her face, but--well, the letter would reveal. And so it did, though
it was written in a rather shaky hand, in pencil, on one of Miss Arden's
hospital record blanks--of all things!

     DEAR MR. KING:

     It is the most wonderful thing in the world to be sitting up
     far enough to be able to write and tell you how sorry I am
     that you are lying down. But Mrs. Burns assures me that you
     are fast improving and that soon you will be about again.
     Meanwhile you are turning your time of waiting to a glorious
     account in teaching poor Franz to speak English. Surely he
     must have been longing to speak it, so that he might tell you
     the things in his heart--about that dreadful night. But I know
     you don't want me to write of that, and I won't.

     Of course I should care to have him play for me, and I hope
     he may do it soon--to-morrow, perhaps. I wonder if he knows
     the Schubert "_Frühlingstraum_"--how I should love to hear it!
     As for your interesting plan for relieving the passing hours,
     I should hardly be human if I did not respond to it! Only
     please never write when you don't feel quite like it--and
     neither will I.

     The white lilacs were even more beautiful than the roses and
     the daffodils. There was a long row of white lilac trees at
     one side of a garden I used to play in--I shall never, never
     forget what that fragrance was like after a rain! And now that
     my sun is shining again--after the rain--you may imagine what
     those white lilacs breathe of to me.

     With the best of good wishes,

     ANNE LINTON.


Jordan King read this note through three times before he folded it back
into its original creases. Then he shut it away in a leather-bound
writing tablet which lay by his side. "Franz," he said, addressing the
youth who was at this hour of the day his sole attendant, "can you play
Schubert's '_Frühlingstraum_'?"

He had to repeat this title several times, with varying accents, before
he succeeded in making it intelligible. But suddenly Franz leaped to an
understanding.

"Yess--yess--yess--yess--sair," he responded joyously, and made a dive
for his violin case.

"Softly, Franz," warned his master. As this was a word which had thus
far been often used in his education, on account of the fact that the
hospital did not belong exclusively to King--strange as that might seem
to Franz who worshipped him--it was immediately comprehended. Without
raising the tones of his instrument, Franz was able presently to make
clear to King that the music he was asked to play was of the best at his
command.

"No wonder she likes that," was King's inward comment. "It's a strange,
weird thing, yet beautiful in a haunting sort of way, I imagine, to a
girl like her, and I don't know but it would be to me if I heard it many
times--while I was smelling lilacs in the rain," he added, smiling to
himself.

That hint of a garden had rather taken hold of his imagination. More
than likely, he said to himself, it had been her own garden--only she
would not tell him so lest she seem to try to convey an idea of former
prosperity. A different sort of girl would have said "our garden."

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning, at the time of Mrs. Burns's visit to the hospital, King
sent Franz to play for Miss Linton. With her breakfast tray had come his
second note telling her of this intention, so she had two hours of
anticipation--a great thing in the life of a convalescent. With every
bronze lock in shining order, with the little wrap of apricot pink silk
and lace about her shoulders, with an extra pillow at her back, Miss
Anne Linton awaited the coming of the "Court Musician," as King had
called him.

"It's a very good thing Jord can't see her at this minute," observed
Burns to his wife as he met her in the hall outside the door. "The
prettiest convalescent has less appeal for a doctor than a young woman
of less good looks in strapping health--naturally, for he gets quite
enough of illness and the signs thereof. But to a lusty chap like King
Miss Anne's present frail appearance would undoubtedly enlist his
chivalry. Those are some eyes of hers, eh?"

"I think I have never seen more beautiful eyes," Ellen agreed heartily.

Her husband laughed. "I have," he said, and went his way, having no time
for morning musicales.

That afternoon Anne Linton, having had all her pillows removed and
having obediently lain still and silent for two long hours, was
permitted to sit up again and write a note to King to tell him of the
joy of the morning:

     DEAR MR. KING:

     It was as if the twilight were falling, with the stars coming
     out one by one. By and by they were all shining, and I was on
     a mountain top somewhere, with the wind blowing softly
     against my face. It was dark and I was all alone, but I
     didn't mind, for I was strong, strong again, and I knew I
     could run down by and by and be with people. Then a storm came
     on, and I lifted my face to if and loved it, and when it died
     away the stars were shining again between the clouds.
     Somewhere a little bird was singing--I opened my eyes just
     there, and your Franz was looking at me and smiling, and I
     smiled back. He seemed so happy to be making me happy--for he
     was, of course. After a while it was dawn--the loveliest dawn,
     all flushed with pink and silver, and I couldn't keep my eyes
     shut any more for looking at the musician's face. He is a real
     musician, you know, and the music he makes comes out of his
     soul.

     When it was all over and he and Mrs. Burns were gone, my tray
     came in. This is a frightful confession, but I am not a real
     musician; I merely love good music with some sort of
     understanding of what it means to those who really care, as
     Franz does. To me, after all the emotion, my tray looked like
     a sort of solid rock that I could cling to. And I had a piece
     of wonderful beefsteak--ah, now you are laughing! Never
     mind--I'll show you the two scenes.

Upon the second sheet was something which made Jordan King open his
eyes. There were two little drawings--the simplest of pencil sketches,
yet executed with a spirit and skill which astonished him. The first was
of Franz himself, done in a dozen lines. There was no attempt at a
portrait, yet somehow Franz was there, in the very set of the head, the
angle of the lifted brow, the pose of the body, most of all in the
indication of the smiling mouth, the drooping eyelids. The second
picture was a funny sketch of a big-eyed girl devouring food from a
tray. Two lines made the pillows behind her, six outlined the tray, a
dozen more demonstrated plainly the famishing appetite with which the
girl was eating. It was all there--it was astonishing how it was all
there.

"My word!" he said as he laid down the sheets--and took them up again,
"that's artist work, whether she knows it or not. She must know it,
though, for she must have had training. I wonder where and how."

He called Miss Arden and showed her the sketches.

"Dear me, but they're clever," she said. "They look like a child's
work--and yet they aren't."

"I should say not," he declared very positively. "That sort of thing is
no child's work. That's what painters do when they're recording an
impression, and I've often looked in more wonder at such sketchy
outlines than at the finished product. To know how to get that
impression on paper so that it's unmistakable--I tell you that's
training and nothing else. I don't know enough about it to say it's
genius, too, yet I've had an artist friend tell me it cost him more to
learn to take the right sort of notes than to enlarge upon those notes
afterward."

When he wrote to Anne next morning--he was not venturing to ask more of
her than one exchange a day--he told her what he thought about those
sketches:

     I've had that sheet pinned up at the foot of my bed ever since
     it came, and I'm not yet tired of looking at it. You should
     have seen Franz's face when I showed it to him. "Ze arteeste!"
     he exclaimed, and laughed, and made eloquent gestures, by
     means of which I judged he was trying to express you. He
     looked as if he were trying to impress me with his own hair,
     his eyes, his cheeks, his hands; but I knew well enough he
     meant you. I gathered that he had been not ill pleased with
     his visit to you, for he proposes another; in fact, I think he
     would enjoy playing for you every day if you should care to
     hear him so often. He does not much like to perform in the
     wards, though he does it whenever I suggest it. He has
     discovered that though they listen respectfully while he plays
     his own beloved music, mostly they are happier when he gives
     them a bit of American ragtime, or a popular song hit. His
     distaste for that sort of thing is very funny. One would think
     he had desecrated his beloved violin when he condescends to
     it, for afterward he invariably gives it a special polishing
     with the old silk handkerchief he keeps in the case--and Miss
     Arden vows he washes his hands, too. Poor Franz! Your real
     artist has a hard time of it in this prosaic world doesn't he?

The note ended by saying boldly that King would like another sketch
sometime, and he even ventured to suggest that he would enjoy seeing a
picture of that row of white lilac trees at the edge of the garden where
Anne used to play. It was two days before he got this, and meanwhile a
box of water colours had come into requisition. When the sheet of heavy
paper came to King he lay looking at it with eyes which sparkled.

At first sight it was just a blur of blues and greens, with irregular
patches of white, and gay tiny dashes of strong colour, pinks and
purples and yellows. But when, as Anne had bidden him, he held it at
arm's length he saw it all--the garden with its box-bordered beds full
of tall yellow tulips and pink and white and purple hyacinths--it was
easy to see that this was what they were, even from the dots and dashes
of colour; the hedge--it was a real hedge of white lilac trees, against
a spring sky all scudding clouds of gray. Like the sketch of Franz, its
charm lay entirely in suggestion, not in detail, but was none the less
real for that.

There was one thing which, to King's observant eyes, stood out plainly
from the little wash drawing. This garden was a garden of the rich, not
of the poor. Just how he knew it so well he could hardly have told,
after all, for there was no hint of house, or wall, or even
summer-house, sundial, terrace, or other significant sign. Yet it was
there, and he doubted if Anne Linton knew it was there, or meant to have
it so. Perhaps it was that lilac hedge which seemed to show so plainly
the hand of a gardener in the planting and tending. The question
was--was it her own garden in which she had played, or the garden of her
father's employer? Had her father been that gardener, perchance? King
instantly rejected this possibility.



CHAPTER VII

WHITE LILACS


Burns, coming in to see King one day when the exchange of letters had
been going on for nearly a fortnight, announced that he might soon be
moved to his own home.

King stared at him. "I'm not absolutely certain that I want to go till I
can get about on my own feet," he said slowly.

Burns nodded. "I know, but that will be some time yet, and your
mother--well, I've put her off as long as I could, but without lying to
her I can't say it would hurt you now to be taken home. And lying's not
my long suit."

"Of course not. And I suppose I ought to go; it would be a comfort to my
mother. But--"

He set his lips and gave no further hint of his unwillingness to go
where he would be at the mercy of the maternal fondness which would
overwhelm him with the attentions he did not want. Besides--there was
another reason why, since he must for the present be confined somewhere,
he was loath to leave the friendly walls where there was now so much of
interest happening every day. Could he keep it happening at home? Not
without much difficulty, as he well foresaw.

"Miss Linton's coming to us on Saturday," observed Burns carelessly,
strolling to the window with his hands in his pockets.

"Is she? I didn't suppose she'd be strong enough just yet." King tried
to speak with equal carelessness, but the truth was that, with his life
bound, as it was at present, within the confines of this room, the
incidents of each day loomed large.

"She's gaining remarkably fast. For all her apparent delicacy of
constitution when she came to us, I'm beginning to suspect that she's
the fortunate possessor of a good deal of vigour at the normal. She says
herself she was never ill before, and that's why she didn't give up
sooner--couldn't believe there was anything the matter. We can't make
her agree to stay with us a day longer than I say is a necessity for
safety."

"Where does she want to go? Not back to that infernal book-agenting?"
There was a frown between King's well-marked brows.

"Yes, I imagine that's what she intends. She's a very decided young
person, and there's not much use telling her what she must and must not
do. As for the book itself, it's pretty clever, my wife and Miss
Mathewson insist. They say the youngsters of the neighbourhood are
crazy over it. Bob knows it by heart, and even the Little-Un studies the
pictures half an hour at a time. If children were her buyers she'd have
no trouble."

"Have a look at those, will you?"

King reached for a leather writing case on the table at his elbow, took
out a pile of sheets, and began to hand them over one by one to Burns.

"What's this? Hullo! Do you mean to say she did this? Well, I like her
impudence!"

"So do I," laughed King, looking past Burns's shoulder at a saucy sketch
of the big Doctor himself evidently laying down the law about something,
by every vigorous line of protest in his attitude and the thrust of his
chin. Underneath was written: "Absolutely not! Haven't I said so a
thousand times?"

"'Wad some power--'" murmured Burns. "Well, she seems to have the
'power.' I am rather a thunderer, I suppose. What's this next? My wife!
Jolly! that's splendid. Hasn't she caught a graceful pose though?
Ellen's to the life. Selina Arden? That's good--that's very good.
There's your conscientious nurse for you. And this, of herself? Ha! She
hasn't flattered herself any. She may have looked like that at one time,
but not now--hardly."

"She's looking pretty well again, is she?"

"Both pretty and well. We don't starve our patients on an exclusively
liquid diet the way we used to, and they don't come out of typhoid
looking half so badly in consequence. And she's been rounding out every
day for the last two weeks in fine shape. She's a great little girl, and
as full of spirit as a gray squirrel. I'm beginning to believe she's a
bit older than I would believe at first; that mind of hers is no
schoolgirl's; it's pretty mature. She says frankly she's twenty-four,
though she doesn't look over nineteen."

"Is there any reason why I can't see her for a bit of a visit if she
goes Saturday?" asked King straightforwardly. It was always a
characteristic of his to go straight to a point in any matter; intrigue
and diplomacy were not for him in affairs which concerned a girl any
more than in those which pertained to his profession. "You see we've
been entertaining each other with letters and things, and it would seem
a pity not to meet--especially if she'll be leaving town before I'm
about."

There was a curiously wistful look in his face as he said this, which
Burns understood. All along King had said almost nothing about the
torture his present helplessness was to him, but his friend knew.

"Of course she'll come; we'll see to that. She's walking about a little
now, and by Saturday she can come down this corridor on her two small
feet."

"See here--couldn't I sit up a bit to meet her?"

"Not a sixteenth of a degree. You'll lie exactly as flat as you are now.
If it's any consolation I'll tell you that you look like a prostrate
man-angel seven feet long."

"Thanks. I'd fire a pillow at you if I had one. I don't want to look
like an object for sympathy, that's all."

Burns nodded understandingly. "Well, Jord," he said a moment later,
"will you go home on Saturday, too?"

The two looked at each other. Then, "If you say so," King agreed.

"All right. Then we'll get rid of two of our most interesting patients
on that happy day. Never mind--the mails will still carry--and Franz is
a faithful messenger. What's that, Miss Dwight? All right, I'll be
there." And he went out, with a gay nod and wave of the hand to the man
on the bed.

This was on Monday. On Tuesday King offered his petition that Anne
Linton would pay him a visit before she left on Saturday. When the
answer came it warmed his heart more than anything he had yet had from
her:

     Of course I will come--only I want you to know that I shall be
     dreadfully sorry to come walking, when you must still lie so
     long on that poor back. Doctor Burns has told me how brave you
     are, with all the pain you are still suffering. But I am
     wonderfully glad to learn that he is so confident of your
     complete recovery. Just to know that you can be your active
     self again is wonderful when one thinks what might have
     happened. I shall always remember you as you seemed to me the
     day you brought me here. I was, of course, feeling pretty
     limp, and the sight of you, in such splendid vigour, made me
     intensely envious. And even though I see you now "unhorsed," I
     shall not lose my first impression, because I know that by and
     by you will be just like that again--looking and feeling as if
     you were fit to conquer the world.

It was the most personal note he had had from her, and he liked it very
much. He couldn't help hoping for more next day, and did his best to
secure it by the words he wrote in reply. But Wednesday's missive was
merely a merrily piquant description of the way she was trying her
returning strength by one expedition after another about her room. On
Thursday she sent him some very jolly sketches of her "packing up," and
on Friday she wrote hurriedly to say that she couldn't write, because
she was making little visits to other patients.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jordan King had never been more exacting as to his dressing than on that
Saturday. He studied his face in the glass after an orderly had shaved
him, to make sure that the blue bloom it took but a few hours to
acquire had been properly subdued. He insisted on a particular silk
shirt to wear under the loose black-silk lounging robe which enveloped
him, and in which he was to be allowed to-day to lie upon the bed
instead of in it. His hair had to be brushed and parted three separate
times before he was satisfied.

"I didn't know I was such a fop," he said, laughing, as Miss Dwight
rallied him on his preparations for receiving the ladies. "But somehow
it seems to make a difference when a man lies on his back. They have him
at a disadvantage. Now if you'll just give me a perfectly good
handkerchief I'll consider that the reception committee is ready. Thank
you. It must be almost time for them, isn't it?"

For a young man who usually spent comparatively little of his time in
attentions to members of the other sex, but who was accustomed,
nevertheless, to be entirely at his ease with them, King acknowledged to
himself that he felt a curious excitement mounting in his veins as the
light footsteps of his guests approached.

Mrs. Burns came first into his line of vision, wearing white from head
to foot, for it was early June and the weather had grown suddenly to be
like that of midsummer. Behind her followed not the black figure King's
memory had persistently pictured, but one also clad in white--the very
simple white of a plain linen suit, with a close little white hat drawn
over the bronze-red hair. Under this hat the eyes King remembered glowed
warmly, and now there was health in the face, which was so much more
charming than the one he recalled that for a moment he could hardly
believe the two the same. Yet--the profile, as she looked at Mrs. Burns,
who spoke first, was the one which had been stamped on his mind as one
not to be forgotten.

She was looking at him now, and there was no pity in her bright
glance--he could not have borne to see it if it had been there. She came
straight up to the bed, her hand outstretched--her gloves were in the
other, as if she were on her way downstairs, as he presently found she
was. She spoke in a full, rich voice, very different from the weary one
he had heard before.

"Do you know me?" she asked, smiling.

"Almost I don't. Have you really been ill, or did you make it all up?"

"I'm beginning to believe I did. I feel myself as if it must be all
dream. How glad I am to find you able to be dressed. Doctor Burns says
you will go home to-day, too."

"This evening, I believe. I thought you were not going till then
either."

"This very hour." She glanced at Mrs. Burns. "My good fairy begged that
I might go early, because it is her little son's birthday. I am to be
at a real party; think of that!"

"The Little-Un's or Bob's?" King asked his other visitor.

Bob was an adopted child, taken by Burns before his marriage, but the
little Chester's parents made no difference between them, and a birthday
celebration for the older boy was sure to be quite as much of an
occasion as for the two-year-old.

"Bob's," Mrs. Burns explained. "He is ten; we can't believe it. And he
has set his heart on having Miss Linton at home for his party. He has
read her little book almost out of its covers, and she has been doing
some place-cards for his guests--the prettiest things!" Ellen opened a
small package she was carrying and showed King the cards.

He gazed at them approvingly. "They're the jolliest I ever saw; the
youngsters will be crazy over them. For a convalescent it strikes me
Miss Linton has been the busiest known to the hospital."

"You, yourself, have kept me rather busy, Mr. King," the girl observed.

"So I have. I'm wondering what I'm to do when you are at Doctor Burns's
and I at home."

She smiled. "I shall be there only a week if I keep on gaining as fast
as I am now."

"A fortnight," interpolated Mrs. Burns, "is the earliest possible date
of your leaving us. And not then unless we think you fit."

"Did you ever know of such kindness?" Anne Linton asked softly of King.
"To a perfect stranger?"

He nodded. "Nothing you could tell me of their kindness could surprise
me. About that fortnight--would it be asking a great deal of you to keep
on sending me that daily note?"

"Isn't there a telephone in your own room at home?" she asked.

"Yes--how did you know?"

"I guessed it. Wouldn't a little telephone talk do quite as well--or
better--than a letter?"

"It would be very nice," admitted King. "But I should hate to do without
the letter. The days are each a month long at present, you know, and
each hour is equal to twenty-four. Make it a letter, too, will you,
please?"

Miss Linton looked at Mrs. Burns. "Do you think circumstances still
alter cases?" she inquired.

Her profile, as King caught it again, struck him as a perfect outline.
To think of this girl starting out again, travelling alone, selling
books from door to door!

"I think you will be quite warranted in being very good to Mr.
King--while his hours drag as he describes," Ellen assented cordially.

"As soon as I can sit up at any sort of decent angle I can do a lot of
work on paper," King asserted. "Then I'll make the time fly.
Meanwhile--it's all right."

They talked together for a little, then King sent for Franz, who came
and played superbly, his eager eyes oftenest on Jordan King, like those
of an adoring and highly intelligent dog. Anne watched Franz, and King
watched Anne. Mrs. Burns, seeming to watch nobody, noted with
affectionate and somewhat concerned interest the apparent trend of the
whole situation. She could not help thinking, rather dubiously, of Mrs.
Alexander King, Jordan's mother.

And, as things happen, it was just as Franz laid down his bow, after a
brilliant rendering of a great concerto, that Mrs. Alexander King came
in. She entered noiselessly, a slender, tall, black-veiled figure, as
scrupulously attired in her conventional deep mourning as if it were not
hot June weather, when some lightening of her sombre garb would have
seemed not only rational but kind to those who must observe her.

"Oh, mother!" King exclaimed. "In all this heat? I didn't expect you.
I'm afraid you ought not to have come."

She bent over him. "The heat has nothing to do with my feelings toward
my son. I couldn't neglect you, dear."

She greeted Ellen cordially, who presented Miss Linton. King lost
nothing of his mother's polite scrutiny of the girl, who bore it without
the slightest sign of recognizing it beyond the lowering of her lashes
after the first long look of the tall lady had continued a trifle beyond
the usual limit. Book agent though she might be, Miss Linton's manner
was faultless, a fact King noted with curious pride in his new
friend--whom, though he himself was meeting her for but the second time,
he somehow wanted to stand any social test which might be put upon her.
And he well knew that his lady mother could apply such tests if anybody
could.

In his heart he was saying that it seemed hard luck, he must say
good-bye to Anne Linton in that mother's presence. There was small
chance to make it a leave-taking of even ordinary good fellowship
beneath that dignified, quietly appraising eye, to say nothing of
endowing it with a quality which should in some measure compensate for
the fact that it might be a parting for a long time to come. However
much or little the exchange of notes during these last weeks might have
come to mean to Jordan King, aside from the diversion they had offered
to one sorely oppressed of mind and body, he resented being now forced
to those restrained phrases of farewell which he well knew were the only
ones that would commend him to his mother's approval.

Mrs. Burns and Miss Linton rose to go, summoned by Red Pepper himself,
who was to take them. In the momentary surge of greeting and small talk
which ensued, King surreptitiously beckoned Anne near. He looked up with
the direct gaze of the man who intends to make the most of the little
that Fate sends him.

"Letters are interesting things, aren't they?" he asked.

"Very. And when they are written by a man lying on his back, who doesn't
know when he is down, they are stimulating things," she answered; and
there was that in the low tone of her voice and the look of her eyes
which was as if she had pinned a medal for gallantry on the breast of
the black silk robe.

Mrs. Alexander King looked at her son--and moved nearer. She addressed
Anne. "I am more than glad to see, Miss Linton," said she, "that you are
fully recovered. Please let me wish you much success in your work. I
suppose we shall not see you again after you leave Mrs. Burns."

"No, Mrs. King," responded Anne's voice composedly. "Thank you for that
very kind wish."

She turned to the prostrate one once more. She put her hand in his, and
he held it fast for an instant, and, in spite of his mother's gaze, it
was an appreciable instant longer than formality called for.

"I shall hope to see you again," he said distinctly, and the usual
phrase acquired a meaning it does not always possess.

Then they were gone, and he had only the remembrance of Anne's parting
look, veiled and maidenly, but the comprehending look of a real friend
none the less.

"My dear boy, you must be quite worn out with all this company in this
exhausting weather," murmured Mrs. King, laying a cool hand on a
decidedly hot brow.

The brow moved beneath her hand, on account of a contraction of the
smooth forehead, as if with pain. "I really hadn't noticed the weather,
mother," replied her son's voice with some constraint in it.

"You must rest now, dear. People who are perfectly well themselves are
often most inconsiderate of an invalid, quite without intention, of
course."

"If I never receive any less consideration than I have had here, I shall
do very well for the rest of my life."

"I know; they have all been very kind. But I shall be so relieved when
I can have you at home, where you will not feel obliged to have other
patients on your mind. In your condition it is too much to expect."

Jordan King was a good son, and he loved his mother deeply. But there
were moments when, as now, if he could have laid a kind but firm hand
upon her handsome, emotional mouth, he would have been delighted to do
so.



CHAPTER VIII

EXPERT DIAGNOSIS


"What would you give for a drive with me this morning?" Burns surveyed
his patient, now dressed and downstairs upon a pillared rear porch,
wistfulness in his eyes but determination on his lips.

"Do you mean it?"

"Yes. We may as well try what that back will stand. Most of the drive
will be sitting still in front of houses, anyhow, and in your plaster
jacket you're pretty safe from injury."

"Thank heaven!" murmured Jordan King fervently.

Two minutes later he was beside Burns in the Doctor's car, staring
eagerly ahead, lifting his hat now and then as some one gave him
interested greeting from passing motor. More than once Burns was obliged
to bring his car to a short standstill, so that some delighted friend
might grasp King's hand and tell him how good it seemed to see him out.
With one and all the young man was very blithe, though he let them do
most of the talking. They all told him heartily that he was looking
wonderfully well, while they ignored with the understanding of the
intelligent certain signs which spoke of physical and mental strain.

"Your friends," Burns remarked as they went on after one particularly
pleasant encounter, "seem to belong to the class who possess brains. I
wish it were a larger class. Every day I find some patient suffering
from depression caused by fool comments from some well-meaning
acquaintance."

"I've had a few of those, too," King acknowledged.

"I'll wager you have. Well, among a certain class of people there seems
to be an idea that you can't show real sympathy without telling the
victim that he's looking very ill, and that you have known several such
cases which didn't recover. I have one little woman on my list who would
have been well long ago if she hadn't had so many loving friends to
impress her with the idea that her case was desperate. I talk Dutch to
such people now and then, when I get the chance, but it doesn't do much
good. Sometimes I get so thundering mad I can't stand it, and then I rip
out something that makes me a lasting enemy."

"You get some comfort out of the explosion, anyhow," King commented,
with a glance at the strong profile beside him. "Besides, you may do
more good than you know. Anybody who had had a good dressing down from
you once wouldn't be likely to forget it in a hurry."

Burns laughed at this, as they stopped in front of a house. King had a
half-hour wait while his friend was inside. The car stood in heavy
shade, and he was very comfortable. He took a letter from his pocket as
he sat, a letter which looked as if it had been many times unfolded, and
read it once more, his face very sober as his eyes followed the familiar
lines:

     DEAR MR. KING:

     I was very, very sorry to go away without seeing you to say
     good-bye after our interesting correspondence. Mrs. Burns and
     I had such a pleasant visit with your mother, in your absence,
     that we felt rewarded for our call, and it was good to know
     that you could be out, yet of course we were very
     disappointed. I do hope that all will go well with you, and
     that very rapidly, for I can guess how eager you are to be at
     work.

     Of course once I am off on my travels I shall have no time for
     letters. No, that isn't quite frank, is it? Well, I will be
     truthful and say honestly that I am sure it is not best that I
     should keep on writing. I am glad if the letters have, as you
     say, helped you through the worst of the siege; they surely
     have helped me. But now--our ways part. Sometime I may give
     you a hail from somewhere--when I am lonely and longing to
     know how you get on. And sometime I may be back at my old
     home. But wherever I am I shall never forget you, Jordan King,
     for you have put something into my life which was not there
     before and I am the better for it. As for you--your life will
     not be one whit the less big and efficient for this trying
     experience; it will be bigger, I think, and finer. I am glad,
     glad I have known you.

     ANNE LINTON.

For the hundredth time King felt his heart sink as he thought of that
prevented last interview. His mother had prevented it. It was perfectly
true that he was out, and away from home--out in a wheeled chair, which
had been pushed by Franz through a gap in the hedge between the Kings'
lawn and the Wentworths' next door. Just on the other side of that hedge
the chair had paused, where Sally Wentworth, his friend of long
standing, was serving tea to a little group of young people, all
intimates and all delighted to have the invalid once more in their
midst. Under the group of great copper beeches which made of that corner
of the Wentworth lawn a summer drawing room, King had sat in his chair
drinking tea and listening to gay chatter--and wondering why he had not
been able to get Anne Linton on the telephone so far that day. And at
that very time, so he now bitterly reflected, she and Mrs. Burns had
made their call upon him, only to be told by Mrs. King that he was
"out."

His mother was unquestionably a lady, and she had told the truth; he
could not conceive of her doing otherwise. He knew that she undoubtedly,
quite as Anne had said, had made the call a pleasant one. But she had
known that he was within a stone's throw of the house, and that he would
be bitterly disappointed not to be summoned. She had not mentioned to
him the fact of the call at all until next day--when Anne Linton had
been gone a full two hours upon her train. Then, when he had called up
Mrs. Burns, in a fever of haste to learn what had happened and what
there might yet be a chance of happening, he had discovered that Ellen
herself had tried three times to get him, upon the telephone, and had at
last realized--though this she did not say--that it was not intended
that she should.

King understood his mother perfectly. She would scorn directly to
deceive him, yet to intrigue quietly but effectively against him in such
a case as this she would consider only her duty. She had seen clearly
his interest in the stranger, unintroduced and unvouched for, taken in
by kind people in an emergency, and though showing unquestionable marks
of breeding, none the less a stranger. She had feared for him, in his
present vulnerable condition; and she had done her part in preventing
that final parting which might have contained elements of danger. That
was all there was to it.

For the present King was helpless, and there could be no possible use in
reproaching his mother for her action--or lack of action. Once let him
get up on his feet, his own master once more--then it would be of use to
talk. And talk he would some day. Also he would act. Meanwhile--

Red Pepper Burns came out of the house and scrutinized his friend and
patient closely as he approached. "Want to go on, or shall I take you
home?" he inquired.

"Take me on--anywhere--everywhere! Something inside will break loose if
you don't." King spoke with a smothered note of irritation new to him in
Burns's experience.

"You've about reached the limit, have you?" The question was
straightforward, matter-of-fact in tone, but King knew the sympathy
behind it.

"I rather have," the young man admitted. "I'm ashamed to own it."

"You needn't be. It's a wonder you haven't reached it sooner; I should
have. Well, if you stand this drive pretty well to-day you ought to come
on fast. With that back, you may be thankful you're getting off as
easily as you are."

"I am thankful--everlastingly thankful. It's just--"

"I know. Blow off some of that steam; it won't hurt you. Here we are on
the straight road. I'll open up and give you a taste of what poor Henley
felt the first time his crippled body and his big, uncrippled spirit
tasted the delight of 'Speed.' Remember?"

"Indeed I do. Oh, I'm not complaining. You understand that, Red?"

"Of course I understand--absolutely. And I understand that you need just
what I say--to blow off a lot of steam. Hurt you or not, I'm going to
let loose for a couple of miles and blow it off for you."

In silence, broken only by the low song of the motor as it voiced its
joy in the widening license to show its power, the two men took the wind
in their faces as the car shot down the road, at the moment a clear
highway for them. King had snatched off his hat, and his dark hair blew
wildly about his forehead, while his eyes watched the way as intently as
if he had been driving himself, though his body hardly tensed, so
complete was his confidence in the steady hands on the wheel. Faster and
faster flew the car, until the speed indicator touched a mark seldom
passed by King himself at his most reckless moments. His lips, set at
first, broke into a smile as the pointing needle circled the dial, and
his eyes, if any could have seen them, would have told the relief there
was for him in escape by flight, though only temporary, from the
grinding pull of monotony and disablement.

At the turn ahead appeared obstruction, and Burns was obliged to begin
slowing down. When the car was again at its ordinary by no means slow
pace, King spoke:

"Bless you for a mind reader! That was bully, and blew away a lot of
distemper. If you'll just do it again going back I'll submit to the
afternoon of a clam in a bed of mud."

"Good. We'll beat that record going back, if we break the speedometer.
Racing with time isn't supposed to be the game for a convalescent, but
I'm inclined to think it's the dose you need, just the same. I expect,
Jord, that the first time you pull on a pair of rubber boots and go to
climbing around a big concrete dam somewhere your heart will break for
joy."

"My heart will stand anything, so that it's action."

"Will it? I thought it might be a bit damaged. It's had a good deal of
reaction to stand lately, I'm afraid."

There was silence for a minute, then King spoke:

"Red, you're a wizard."

"Not much of a one. It doesn't take extraordinary powers of penetration
to guess that a flame applied to a bundle of kindling will cause a fire.
And when you keep piling on the fuel something's likely to get burned."

"Did I pile on the fuel?"

"You sure did. If there had been gunpowder under the kindling you could
have expected an explosion--and a wreck."

"There's no wreck."

"No? I thought there might be--somewhere."

King spoke quickly. "Do you think I carried it too far?"

"I think you carried it some distance--for an invalid's diversion."

The young man flushed hotly. "I was genuinely interested and I saw no
harm. If there's any harm done it's to myself, and I can stand that. I'm
not conceited enough to imagine that a broken-backed cripple could make
any lasting impression."

Burns turned and surveyed his companion with some amusement. "Do you
consider that a description of yourself?"

"I certainly do." Jordan King's strong young jaw took on a grim
expression.

"Know this then"--Burns spoke deliberately--"there's not a sane girl who
liked you well enough before your accident to marry you who wouldn't
marry you now."

"That's absurd. Women want men, not cripples."

"You're no cripple. Stop using that term."

"What else? A man condemned to wear a plaster jacket for at least a
year." King evidently did his best not to speak bitterly.

"Bosh! Suppose the same thing happened to me. Would you look on me
askance for the rest of my days, no matter what man's job I kept on
tackling? Besides, the plaster jacket's only a precaution. You wouldn't
disintegrate without it."

King looked at Red Pepper Burns and smiled in spite of himself. "I'm
glad to hear that, I'm sure. As for looking at you askance--you are you,
R.P. Burns."

"Apply the same logic to yourself. You are you, and will continue to be
you, plus some assets you haven't had occasion to acquire before in the
way of dogged endurance, control of mind, and such-like qualities, bred
of need for them. You will be more to us all than you ever were, and
that's saying something. And the back's going to be a perfectly good
back; give it time. As for--if you don't mind my saying it--that
invalid's diversion, I don't suppose it's hurt you any. What I'm
concerned for is the hurt it may have done somebody else. I don't need
to tell you that it wasn't possible for Ellen and me to have that little
girl on our hearts all that time and not get mightily interested in her.
She's the real thing, too, we're convinced, and we care a good deal what
happens to her next."

Jordan King drew a deep breath. "So do I."

Burns gave him a quick look. "That's good. But you let her go away
without making sure of keeping any hold on her. You don't know where she
is now."

King shot him a return look. "That wasn't my fault. That was hard luck."

"I don't think much of luck. Get around it."

"I'll do my best, I promise you. But I wish you'd tell me--"

"Yes?"

"--why you should think I had done her any harm. Heaven knows I wouldn't
do that for my right arm!"

"She didn't make a sign--not one--of any injury, I assure you. She's a
gallant little person, if ever there was one--and a thoroughbred, though
she may be as poor as a church mouse. No, I should never have guessed
it. She went away with all sails set and the flags flying. All I know is
what my wife says."

"Please tell me."

"I'm not sure it will be good for you." Burns smiled as he drew up
beside a house. "However--if you will have it--she says Miss Anne Linton
took away with her every one of your numerous letters, notes, and even
calling cards which had been sent with flowers. She also took a halftone
snapshot of you out at the Coldtown dam, cut from a newspaper,
published the Sunday after your accident. The sun was in your eyes and
you were scowling like a fiend; it was the worst picture of you
conceivable."

"Girls do those things, I suppose," murmured King with a rising colour.

"Granted. And now and then one does it for a purpose which we won't
consider. But a girl of the type we feel sure Miss Linton to be
carefully destroys all such things from men she doesn't care
for--particularly if she has started on a trip and is travelling light.
Of course she may have fooled us all and be the cleverest little
adventuress ever heard of. But I'd stake a good deal on Ellen's
judgment. Women don't fool women much, you know, whatever they do with
men."

He disappeared into a small brown house, and King was left once more
with his own thoughts. When Burns came out they drove on again with
little attempt at conversation, for Burns's calls were not far apart.
King presently began to find himself growing weary, and sat very quietly
in his seat during the Doctor's absences, experiencing, as he had done
many times of late, a sense of intense contempt for himself because of
his own physical weakness. In all his sturdy life he had never known
what it was to feel not up to doing whatever there might be to be done.
Fatigue he had known, the healthy and not unpleasant fatigue which
follows vigorous and prolonged labour, but never weakness or pain,
either of body or of mind. Now he was suffering both.

"Had about enough?" Burns inquired as he returned to the car for the
eighth time. "Shall I take you home?"

"I'm all right."

Burns gave him a sharp glance. "To be sure you are. But we'll go home
nevertheless. The rest of my work is at the hospital anyhow."

As they were approaching the long stretch of straight road to which King
had looked forward an hour ago, but which he was disgusted to find
himself actually rather dreading now, a great closed car of luxurious
type, and bearing upon its top considerable travelling luggage, slowed
down as it neared, and a liveried chauffeur held up a detaining hand.
Burns stopped to answer a series of questions as to the best route
toward a neighbouring city. There were matters of road mending and
detours to be made plain to the inquirers, so the detention occupied a
full five minutes, during which the chauffeur got down and came to
Burns's side with a road map, with which the two wrestled after the
fashion usually made necessary by such aids to travel.

During this period Jordan King underwent a disturbing experience.
Looking up with his usual keen glance, one trained to observe whatever
might be before it, he took in at a sweep the nature of the party in the
big car. That it was a rich man's car, and that its occupants were those
who naturally belonged in it, there was no question. From the owner
himself, an aristocrat who looked the part, as not all aristocrats do,
to those who were presumably his wife, his son, and daughters, all were
of the same type. Simply dressed as if for a long journey, they yet
diffused that aroma of luxury which cannot be concealed.

The presumable son, a tall, hawk-nosed young man who sat beside the
chauffeur, turned to speak to those inside, and King's glance followed
his. He thus caught sight of a profile next the open window and close by
him. He stared at it, his heart suddenly standing still. Who was this
girl with the bronze-red hair, the perfect outline of nose and mouth and
chin, the sea-shell colouring? Even as he stared she turned her head,
and her eyes looked straight into his.

He had seen Miss Anne Linton only twice, and on the two occasions she
had seemed to him like two entirely different girls. But this girl--was
she not that one who had come to visit him in his room at the hospital,
full of returning health and therefore of waxing beauty and vigour?

For one instant he was sure it was she, no matter how strange it was
that she should be here, in this rich man's car--unless--But he had no
time to think it out before he was overwhelmed by the indubitable
evidence that, whoever this girl was, she did not know him. Her
eyes--apparently the same wonderful eyes which he could now never
forget--looked into his without a sign of recognition, and her
colour--the colour of radiantly blooming youth--did not change
perceptibly under his gaze. And after that one glance, in which she
seemed to survey him closely, after the manner of girls, as if he were
an interesting specimen, her eyes travelled to Red Pepper Burns and
rested lightly on him, as if he, too, were a person of but passing
significance to the motor traveller looking for diversion after many
dusty miles of more or less monotonous sights.

King continued to gaze at her with a steadiness somewhat indefensible
except as one considers that all motorists, meeting on the highway, are
accustomed to take note of one another as comrades of the road. He was
not conscious that the other young people in the car also regarded him
with eyes of interest, and if he had he would not have realized just
why. His handsome, alert face, its outlines slightly sharpened by his
late experiences, his well-dressed, stalwart figure, carried no hint of
the odious plaster jacket which to his own thinking put him outside the
pale of interest for any one.

But it could not be Anne Linton; of course it could not! What should a
poor little book agent be doing here in a rich man's car--unless she
were in his employ? And somehow the fact that this girl was not in any
man's employ was established by the manner in which the young man on the
front seat spoke to her, as he now did, plainly heard by King. Though
all he said was some laughing, more or less witty thing about this being
the nineteenth time, by actual count since breakfast, that a question of
roads and routes had arisen, he spoke as to an equal in social status,
and also--this was plainer yet--as to one on whom he had a more than
ordinary claim. And King listened for her answer--surely he would know
her voice if she spoke? One may distrust the evidence of one's eyes when
it comes to a matter of identity, but one's ears are not to be deceived.

But King's ears, stretched though they might be, metaphorically
speaking, like those of a mule, to catch the sound of that voice, caught
nothing. She replied to the young man on the front seat only by a nod
and a smile. Then, as the chauffeur began to fold up his road map,
thanking Burns for his careful directions, and both cars were on the
point of starting, the object of King's heart-arresting scrutiny looked
at him once again. Her straight gaze, out of such eyes as he had never
seen but on those two occasions, met his without flinching--a long,
steady, level look, which lasted until, under Burns's impatient hand,
the smaller car got under motion and began to move. Even then, though
she had to turn her head a little, she let him hold her gaze--as, of
course, he was nothing loath to do, being intensely and increasingly
stirred by the encounter with its baffling hint of mystery. Indeed, she
let him hold that gaze until it was not possible for her longer to
maintain her share of the exchange without twisting about in the car. As
for King, he did not scruple to twist, as far as his back would let him,
until he had lost those eyes from his view.



CHAPTER IX

JORDAN IS A MAN


When King turned back again to face the front his heart was thumping
prodigiously. Almost he was certain it had been Anne Linton; yet the
explanation--if there were one--was not to be imagined. And if it had
been Anne Linton, why should she have refused to know him? There could
have been little difficulty for her in identifying him, even though she
had seen him last lying flat on his back on a hospital bed. And if there
had been a chance of her not knowing him--there was Red Pepper.

It was Anne. It could not be Anne. Between these two convictions King's
head was whirling. Whoever it was, she had dared to look straight into
his eyes in broad daylight at a distance of not more than four feet. He
had seen into the very depths of her own bewildering beauty, and the
encounter, always supposing her to be the person of whom he had thought
continuously for four months, was a thing to keep him thinking about her
whether he would or no.

"Anything wrong?" asked Burns's voice in its coolest tones. "I suspect
I was something of an idiot to give you such a big dose of this at the
first trial."

"I'm all right, thank you." And King sat up very straight in the car to
prove it. Nevertheless, when he was at home again he was not sorry to be
peremptorily ordered to lie supine on his back for at least three hours.

It was not long after this that King was able to bring about the thing
he most desired--a talk with Mrs. Burns. She came to see him one July
day, at his request, at an hour when he knew his mother must be away.
With her he went straight to his point; the moment the first greetings
were over and he had been congratulated on his ability to spend a few
hours each day at his desk, he began upon the subject uppermost in his
thoughts. He told her the story of his encounter with the girl in the
car, and asked her if she thought it could have been Miss Linton.

She looked at him musingly. "Do you prefer to think it was or was not?"
she asked.

"Are you going to answer accordingly?"

"Not at all. I was wondering which I wanted to think myself. I wish I
had been with you. I should have known."

"Would you?" King spoke eagerly. "Would you mind telling me how?"

"I can't tell you how. Of course I came to know her looks much better
than you; it really isn't strange that after seeing her only twice you
couldn't be sure. I don't think any change of dress or environment could
have hidden her from me. The question is, of course, why--if it was
she--she should have chosen not to seem to know you--unless--"

"Yes--"

She looked straight at him. "Unless--she is not the poor girl she seemed
to be. And that explanation doesn't appeal to me. I have known of poor
girls pretending to be rich, but I have never, outside of a sensational
novel, known a rich girl to pretend to be poor, unless for a visit to a
poor quarter for charitable purposes. What possible object could there
be in a girl's going about selling books unless she needed to do it? And
she allowed me--" She stopped, shaking her head. "No, Jordan, that was
not our little friend--or if it was, she was in that car by some curious
chance, not because she belonged there."

"So you're going on trusting her?" was King's abstract of these
reflections. He scanned her closely.

She nodded. "Until I have stronger proof to the contrary than your
looking into a pair of beautiful eyes. Have you never observed, my
friend, how many pairs of beautiful eyes there are in the world?"

He shook his head. "I haven't bothered much about them, except now and
then for a bit of nonsense making."

"But this pair you, too, are going to go on trusting?"

"I am. If that girl was Miss Linton she had a reason for not speaking.
If it wasn't"--he drew a deep breath--"well, I don't know exactly how to
explain that!"

"I do," said Ellen Burns, smiling. "She thought she would never see you
again, and she yielded to a girlish desire to look hard at--a real man."

It was this speech which, in spite of himself, lingered in King's mind
after she was gone, for the balm there was in it--a balm she had
perfectly understood and meant to put there. Well she guessed what his
disablement meant to him--in spite of the hope of complete recovery--how
little he seemed to himself like the man he was before.

Certainly it was nothing short of real manhood which prompted the talk
he had with his mother one day not long after this. She brought him a
letter, and she was scrutinizing it closely as she came toward him. He
was fathoms deep in his work and did not observe her until she spoke.

"Whom can you possibly have as a correspondent in this town, my son?"
she inquired, her eyes upon the postmark, which was that of a small city
a hundred miles away. It was one in which lived an old school friend of
whom she had never spoken, to her recollection, in King's hearing, for
the reason that the family had since suffered deep disgrace in the eyes
of the world, and she had been inexpressibly shocked thereby.

King looked up. He was always hoping for a word from Anne Linton, and
now, suddenly, it had come, just a week after the encounter with the
girl in the car--which had been going, as it happened, in the opposite
direction from the city of the postmark. He recognized instantly the
handwriting upon the plain, white business envelope--an interesting
handwriting, clear and black, without a single feminine flourish. He
took the letter in his hand and studied it.

"It is from Miss Linton," he said, "and I am very glad to hear from her.
It is the first time she has written since she went away--over two
months ago."

He spoke precisely as he would have spoken if it had been a letter from
any friend he had. It was like him to do this, and the surer another man
would have been to try to conceal his interest in the letter the surer
was Jordan King to proclaim it. The very fact that this announcement was
certain to rouse his mother's suspicion that the affair was of moment
to him was enough to make him tell her frankly that she was quite right.

He laid the letter on the desk before him unopened, and went on with his
work. Mrs. King stood still and looked at him a moment before moving
quietly away, and disturbance was written upon her face. She knew her
son's habit of finishing one thing before he took up another, but she
understood also that he wished to be alone when he should read this
letter. She left the room, but soon afterward she softly passed the open
door, and she saw that the letter lay open before him and that his head
was bent over it. The words before him were these:

     DEAR MR. KING:

     I had not meant to write to you for much longer than this, but
     I find myself so anxious to know how you are that I am
     yielding to the temptation. I may as well confess that I am
     just a little lonely to-night, in spite of having had a pretty
     good day with the little book--rather better than usual.
     Sometimes I almost wish I hadn't spent that fortnight with
     Mrs. Burns, I find myself missing her so. And yet, how can one
     be sorry for any happy thing that comes to one? As I look back
     on them now, though I am well and strong again, those days of
     convalescence in the hospital stand out as among the happiest
     in my life. The pleasant people, the flowers, the notes, all
     the incidents of that time, not the least among them Franz's
     music, stay in my memory like a series of pictures.

     Do you care to tell me how you come on? If so you may write to
     me, care of general delivery, in this town, at any time for
     the next five days. I shall be so glad to hear.

     ANNE LINTON.

King looked up as his mother approached. He folded the letter and put
it into his pocket.

"Mother," he said, "I may as well tell you something. You won't approve
of it, and that is why I must tell you. From the hour I first saw Miss
Linton I've been unable to forget her. I know, by every sign, that she
is all she seems to be. I can't let her go out of my life without an
effort to keep her. I'm going to keep her, if I can."

Two hours later R.P. Burns, M.D., was summoned to the bedside of Mrs.
Alexander King. He sat down beside the limp form, felt the pulse, laid
his hand upon the shaking shoulder of the prostrate lady, who had gone
down before her son's decision, gentle though his manner with her had
been. She had argued, prayed, entreated, wept, but she had not been able
to shake his purpose. Now she was reaping the consequences of her
agitation.

"My son, my only boy," she moaned as Burns asked her to tell him her
trouble, "after all these years of his being such a man, to change
suddenly into a willful boy again! It's inconceivable; it's not
possible! Doctor, you must tell him, you must argue with him. He can't
marry this girl, he can't! Why, he doesn't even know the place she comes
from, to say nothing of who she is--her family, her position in life.
She must be a common sort of creature to follow him up so; you know she
must. I can't have it; I will not have it! You must tell him so!"

Burns considered. There was a curious light in his eyes. "My dear lady,"
he said gently at length, "Jordan is a man; you can't control him. He is
a mighty manly man, too--as his frankly telling you his intention
proves. Most sons would have kept their plans to themselves, and simply
have brought the mother home her new daughter some day without any
warning. As for Miss Linton, I assure you she is a lady--as it seems to
me you must have seen for yourself."

"She is clever; she could act the part of a lady, no doubt," moaned the
one who possessed a clear title to that form of address. "But she might
be anything. Why didn't she tell you something of herself? Jordan could
not say that you knew the least thing about her. People with fine family
records are not so mysterious. There is something wrong about her--I
know it--I know it! Oh, I can't have it so; I can't! You must stop it,
Doctor; you must!"

"She spent two weeks in our home," Burns said. "During that time there
was no test she did not stand. Come, Mrs. King, you know that it doesn't
take long to discover the flaw in any metal. She rang true at every
touch. She's a girl of education, of refinement--why, Ellen came to feel
plenty of real affection for her before she left us, and you know that
means a good deal. As for the mystery about her, what's that? Most
people talk too much about their affairs. If, as we think, she has been
brought up in circumstances very different from these we find her in, it
isn't strange that she doesn't want to tell us all about the change."

But his patient continued to moan, and he could give her no consolation.
For a time he sat quietly beside the couch where lay the long and
slender form, and he was thinking things over. The room was veiled in a
half twilight, partly the effect of closing day and partly that of drawn
shades. The deep and sobbing breaths continued until suddenly Burns's
hand was laid firmly upon the hand which clutched a handkerchief wet
with many tears. He spoke now in a new tone, one she had never before
heard from him addressed to herself:

"This," he said, "isn't worthy of you, my friend."

It was as if her breath were temporarily suspended while she listened.
People were not accustomed to tell Mrs. Alexander King that her course
of action was unworthy of her.

"No man or woman has a right to dictate to another what he shall do,
provided the thing contemplated is not an offense against another. You
have no right to set your will against your son's when it is a matter
of his life's happiness."

She seized on this last phrase. "But that's why I do oppose him. I want
him to be happy--heaven knows I do! He can't be happy--this way."

"How do you know that? You don't know it. You are just as likely to make
him bitterly unhappy by opposing him as by letting him alone. And I can
tell you one thing surely, Mrs. King: Jordan will do as he wishes in
spite of you, and all you will gain by opposition will be not a gain,
but a sacrifice--of his love."

She shivered. "How can you think he will be so selfish?"

Burns had some ado to keep his rising temper down. "Selfish--to marry
the woman he wants instead of the woman you want? That's an old, old
argument of selfish mothers."

The figure on the couch stiffened. "Doctor Burns! How can you speak so,
when all I ask for is my son's best good?" The words ended in a wail.

"You think you do, dear lady. What you really want is--your own way."

Suddenly she sat up, staring at him. His clear gaze met her clouded one,
his sane glance confronted her wild one. She lifted her shaking hand
with a gesture of dismissal. But there was a new experience in store
for Jordan King's mother.

Burns leaned forward, and took the delicate hand of his hysterical
patient in his own.

"No, no," he said, smiling, "you don't mean that; you are not quite
yourself. I am Jordan's friend and yours. I have said harsh things to
you; it was the only way. I love your boy as I would a younger brother,
and I want you to keep him because I can understand what the loss of him
would mean to you. But you must know that you can't tie a man's heart to
you with angry commands, nor with tears and reproaches. You can tie
it--tight--by showing sympathy and understanding in this crisis of his
life. Believe me, I know."

His tone was very winning; his manner--now that he had said his
say--though firm, was gentle, and he held her hand in a way that did
much toward quieting her. Many patients in danger of losing self-control
had known the strengthening, soothing touch of that strong hand. Red
Pepper was not accustomed to misuse this power of his, which came very
near being hypnotic, but neither did he hesitate to use it when the
occasion called as loudly as did this one.

And presently Mrs. King was lying quietly on her couch again, her eyes
closed, the beating of her agitated pulses slowly quieting. And Burns,
bending close, was saying before he left her: "That's a brave woman.
Ladies are lovely things, but I respect women more. Only a mighty fine
one could be the mother of my friend Jord, and I knew she would meet
this issue like the Spartan she knows how to be."

If, as he stole away downstairs--leaving his patient in the hands of a
somewhat long-suffering maid--he was saying to himself things of a quite
different sort, let him not be blamed for insincerity. He had at the
last used the one stimulant against which most of us are powerless: the
call to be that which we believe another thinks us.



CHAPTER X

THE SURGICAL FIRING LINE


"Len, I've something great to tell you," announced Red Pepper Burns, one
evening in August, as he came out from his office where he had been
seeing a late patient, and joined his wife, who was wandering about her
garden in the twilight. "To-day I've had the compliment of my life. Whom
do you think I'm to operate on day after to-morrow?"

She looked up at him as he stood, his hands in his pockets, looking down
at her. In her sheer white frock, through which gleamed her neck and
arms, her hands full of pink and white snapdragon, she was worth
consideration. Her eyes searched his face and found there a curious
exultation of a very human sort. "How could I guess? Tell me."

"Who should you say was the very last man on earth to do me the honour
of trusting me in a serious emergency?"

She turned away her head, gazing down at a fragrant border of
mignonette, while he watched her, a smile on his lips. She looked up
again. "I can't think, Red. It seems to me everybody trusts you."

"Not by a long shot, or the rest of the profession would stand idle. But
there's one man who I should have said, to use a time-honoured phrase,
wouldn't let me operate on a sick cat. And he's the man who is going to
put his life in my hands Wednesday morning at ten o'clock. Len, if I am
ever on my mettle to do a perfect job, it'll be then!"

"Of course. But who--"

"I should think the name would leap to your lips. Who's mine ancient
enemy, the man who has fought me by politely sneering at me, and
circumventing me when he could, ever since I began practice, and whom
I've fought back in my way? Why, Len--"

Her dark eyes grew wide. "Red! Not--Doctor Van Horn?"

"Even so."

"Oh, Red! That is a compliment--and more than a compliment. But I should
never have thought of him somehow because, I suppose--"

"Because nobody ever thinks of a doctor's being sick or needing an
operation. But doctors do--sometimes--and usually pretty badly, too,
before they will submit to it. Van Horn's in dreadful shape, and has
been keeping it dark--until it's got the upper hand of him completely.
Mighty plucky the way he's been going on with his work, with trouble
gnawing at his vitals."

"How did he come to call you?"

"That's what I'm wondering. But call me he did, yesterday, and I've seen
him twice since. And when I told him what had to be done he took it like
a soldier without wincing. But when he said he wanted me to do the trick
you could have knocked me down with a lead pencil. My word, Len, I have
been doing Van an injustice all these years! The real stuff is in him,
after all, and plenty of it, too."

"It is he who has done you the injustice," Ellen said with a little lift
of the head.

"I know I have given you reason to think so--the times I've come home
raving mad at some cut of his. But, Len, that's all past and he wipes it
out by trusting me now. The biggest thing I've had against him was not
his knifing me but his apparent toadying to the rich and influential.
But there's another side to that and I see it now. Some people have to
be coddled, and though it goes against my grain to do it, I don't know
why a man who can be diplomatic and winning, like Van Horn, hasn't his
place just as much as a rough rider like me. Anyhow, the thing now is to
pull him through his operation, and if I can do it--well, Van and I
will be on a new basis, and a mighty comfortable one it will be."

His voice was eager and his wife understood just how his pulses were
thrilling, as do those of the born surgeon, at the approach of a great
opportunity.

"I'm very, very glad, dear," Ellen said warmly. "It's a real triumph of
faith over jealousy, and I don't wonder you are proud of such a
commission. I know you will bring him through."

"If I don't--but that's not to be thought of. It's a case that calls for
extremely delicate surgery and a sure hand, but the ground is plainly
mapped out and only some absolutely unforeseen complication is to be
dreaded. And when it comes to those complications--well, Len, sometimes
I think it must be the good Lord who works a man's brain for him at such
crises, and makes it pretty nearly superhuman. It's hard to account any
other way, sometimes, for the success of the quick decisions you make
under necessity that would take a lot of time to work out if you had the
time. Oh, it's a great game, Len, no doubt of that--when you win. And
when you lose"--he stopped short, staring into the shadows where a row
of dark-leaved laurel bushes shut away the garden in a soft
seclusion--"well, that's another story, a heartbreaking story."

He was silent for a minute, then, in another tone, he spoke
confidently: "But--this isn't going to be a story of that kind. Van Horn
has a big place in the city and he's going to keep it. And I'm going to
spend the rest of this evening making a bit of a tool I've had in mind
for some time--that there's a remote chance I shall need in this case.
But if that remote chance should come--well, there's nothing like a
state of preparedness, as the military men say."

"That's why you succeed, Red; you always are prepared."

"Not always. And it's in the emergency you can't foresee that heaven
comes to the rescue. You can't expect it to come to the rescue when you
might have foreseen. 'Trust the Lord and keep your powder dry' is a
pretty good maxim for the surgical firing line, too--eh?"

With his arm through his wife's he paced several times up and down the
flowery borders, then went away into the small laboratory and machine
shop where he was accustomed to do much of the work which showed only in
its final results. Through the rest of the hot August evening, his
attire stripped to the lowest terms compatible with possible unexpected
visitors, he laboured with all the enthusiasm characteristic of him at
tasks which to another mind would have been drudgery indeed.

To him, at about ten o'clock, came his neighbour and friend, Arthur
Chester. Standing with arms on the sill outside of the lighted window,
clad in summer vestments of white and looking as cool and fresh as the
man inside looked hot and dirty, Chester attempted to lure the worker
forth.

"Win's serving a lot of cold, wet stuff on our porch," he announced.
"Ellen's there, and the Macauleys, and Jord King has just driven up and
stopped for a minute. He's got Aleck with him and he's pleased as Punch
because he's rigged a contrivance so that Aleck can drive himself with
one hand. What do you think of that?"

"Good work," replied Burns absently after a minute, during which he
tested a steel edge with an experimental finger and shook his head at
it.

"Did you expect Jord to keep Aleck, when he's got to have another man
besides for the things Aleck can't do now?"

Burns nodded. "Expect anything--of him."

"Put down that murderous-looking thing and come along over. Ellen said
you were here, and Win sent word to you not to bother to change your
clothes."

"Thanks--I won't."

"Won't bother--or won't come?"

"Both."

Chester sighed. "Do you know what you remind me of when you get in this
hole of a workshop? A bull pup with his teeth in something, and only
growls issuing."

"Better keep away then."

"I suppose that's a hint--a bull-pup hint."

Silence from inside, while the worker stirred something boiling over a
flame, poured a dark fluid from one retort into another, dropped in a
drop or two of something from a small vial inflammatorily labelled, and
started an electric motor in a corner. Chester could see the shine of
perspiration on the smooth brow below the coppery hair, and drops
standing like dew on the broad white chest from which the open shirt was
turned widely back.

"It must be about a hundred and fifty Fahrenheit in there," he
commented. Burns grunted an assent. "It's only eighty-four on our porch,
and growing cooler every minute. The things we have to drink are just
above thirty-two, right off the ice." Chester's words were carefully
chosen.

"Dangerous extremes. But I wouldn't mind having a pint or two of
something cold. Go, bring it to me."

"Well, I like that."

"So'll I, I hope."

Chester laughed and strolled away. When he returned he carried a big
crystal pitcher filled with a pleasantly frothing home-made amber brew
in which ice tinkled. With him came Jordan King. Chester shoved aside
the screen and pushed the pitcher inside, accompanied by a glass which
Winifred had insisted on sending.

Burns caught up the pitcher, drank thirstily, drew his arm across his
mouth and grinned through the window, meeting Jordan King's smiling gaze
in return.

"Company manners don't go when your hands are black, eh?" remarked the
man inside.

"Mechanics and surgeons seem a good deal alike at times," was the
laughing reply.

"Can't tell 'em apart. Your lily-handed surgeon is an anomaly. I hear
Aleck came out under his own steam to-night. How does it go?"

"First rate. It was great fun. He's like a boiling kettle full of steam,
with the lid off just in time."

"Good. Be on your guard when he's driving, though, for a while. Don't
let him stay at the wheel down Devil's Hill just yet."

"Why not? He has absolute control the way I've fixed it. You see the
spark and gas are right where--"

"I don't want you to take one chance in a million on that back of yours
yet. See? Or do I have to drive that order in and spike it down?"

"He seems to have a lot of conversation in him--for you," observed
Chester to King as the two outside laughed at this explosion from
within.

"Such as it is," replied King with an audacious wink. "I thought I'd got
about through taking orders."

"I'll give you both two minutes to clear out," came from inside the
window as Burns caught up a piece of steel and began narrowly to examine
it. Over it he looked at Jordan King, and the two exchanged a glance
which spoke of complete understanding.

"Come again, boy," Burns said with a sudden flashing smile at his
friend.

"I will--day after to-morrow in the afternoon," King returned, and his
eyes held Burns's.

"What? Do you know?"

King nodded, with a look of pride. "You bet I do."

"Who told you?"

"Himself."

"Didn't know you knew him well enough for that."

"Oh, yes, through mother; they're old friends. She sent me to see him
for her."

"I see. Well, wish me luck!"

"I wish you--your own skill at its highest power," said Jordan King
fervently.

"Thanks, youngster," was Burns's answer, and this time there was no
smile on the face which he lifted again for an instant from above the
tiny piece of steel which held in it such potentialities--in his hands.

"You seem to have got farther in under his skin than the rest of us,"
observed Chester to King as they walked slowly away. There was a touch
of unconscious jealousy in his tone. He had known R.P. Burns a long
while before Jordan King had reached man's estate. "I never knew him to
say a word about a coming operation before."

"He didn't say it now; I happened to know. Come out and see the rigging
we've put on the car so Aleck can work everything with one hand and two
feet."

"And a few brains, I should say," Chester supplemented.

       *       *       *       *       *

Though Burns had plenty of other work to keep him busy during the
interval before he should lay hands upon Doctor Van Horn, his mind was
seldom off his coming task. In spite of all that Ellen knew of the past
antagonism between the two men she was in possession of but
comparatively few of the facts. Except where his fiery temper had
entirely overcome him Burns had been silent concerning the many causes
he had had to dislike and distrust the older man.

As what is called "a fashionable physician," having for his patients
few outside of the wealthy class, Dr. James Van Horn had occupied a
field of practice entirely different from that of R.P. Burns. Though
Burns numbered on his list many of the city's best known and most
prosperous citizens, he held them by virtue of a manner of address and a
system of treatment differing in no wise from that which he employed
upon the poorest and humblest who came to him. If people liked him it
was for no blandishments of his, only for his sturdy manliness, his
absolute honesty, and a certain not unattractive bluntness of speech
whose humour often atoned for its thrust.

As for his skill, there was no question that it ranked higher than that
of his special rival. As for his success, it had steadily increased.
And, as all who knew him could testify, when it came to that "last
ditch" in which lay a human being fighting for his life, Burns's
reputation for standing by, sleeves rolled up and body stiff with
resistance of the threatening evil, was such that there was no man to
compete with him.

It was inevitable that in a city of the moderate size of that in which
these two men practised there should arise situations which sometimes
brought about a clash between them. The patient of one, having arrived
at serious straits, often called for a consultation with the other. The
very professional bearing and methods of the two were so different,
strive though they might to adapt themselves to each other at least in
the presence of the patient, that trouble usually began at once, veiled
though it might be under the stringencies of professional etiquette.
Later, when it came to matters of life and death, these men were sure to
disagree radically. Van Horn, dignified of presence, polished of speech,
was apt to impress the patient's family with his wisdom, his restraint,
his modestly assured sense of the fitness of his own methods to the
needs of the case; while Burns, burning with indignation over some
breach of faith occasioned by his senior's orders in his absence, or
other indignity, flaming still more hotly over being forced into a
course which he believed to be against the patient's interest, was
likely to blurt out some rough speech at a moment when silence, as far
as his own interests were concerned, would have been more discreet--and
then would come rupture.

Usually those most concerned never guessed at the hidden fires, because
even Burns, under bonds to his wife to restrain himself at moments of
danger, was nearly always able to get away from such scenes without open
outbreak. But more than once a situation had developed which could be
handled only by the withdrawal of one or the other physician from the
case--and then, whether he went or stayed, Burns could seldom win
through without showing what he felt.

Now, however, he was feeling as he had never dreamed he could feel
toward James Van Horn. The way in which the man was facing the present
crisis in his life called for Burns's honest and ungrudging admiration.
With that same cool and unflurried bearing with which Van Horn was
accustomed to hold his own in a consultation was he now awaiting the
uncertain issue of his determination to end, in one way or the other,
the disability under which he was suffering.



CHAPTER XI

THE ONLY SAFE PLACE


When Red Pepper Burns visited James Van Horn, at the hospital, on the
evening before the operation, he found him lying quietly in bed, ready
for the night--and the morning. He looked up and smiled the same
slightly frosty smile Burns knew so well, but which he now interpreted
differently. As he sat down by the bedside the younger man's heart was
unbelievably warm.

He looked straight, with his powerful hazel eyes slightly veiled by a
contraction of the eyelids, into the steady gray eyes of his
patient--his patient--he could not believe it yet. He laid exploring
fingers upon the pulse of the hand he had just grasped.

"If they were all like you," he said gently, "we should have better
chances for doing our best. How do you manage it, Doctor?"

"Temperament, I suppose," returned the other lightly. "Or"--and now he
spoke less lightly--"belief--or lack of it. If we get through--very
well; I shall go on with my work. If we don't get through--that ends
it. I have no belief in any hereafter, as you may know. A few years more
or less--what does it matter?"

Burns studied the finely chiselled face in silence for a minute, then he
spoke slowly: "It matters this much--to me. If by a chance, a slip, a
lack of skill, I should put an end to a life which would never live
again, I could not bear it."

Van Horn smiled--and somehow the smile was not frosty at all. "I am
trusting you. Your hand won't slip; there will be no lack of skill. If
you don't pull me through, it will be because destiny is too much for
us. To be honest, I don't care how it comes out. And yet, that's not
quite true either. I do care; only I want to be entirely well again. I
can't go on as I have gone."

"You shall not. We're going to win; I'm confident of it. Only--Doctor,
if the unforeseen should happen I don't want you to go out of this life
believing there's no other. Listen." He pulled out a notebook and
searching, found a small newspaper clipping. "A big New York paper the
other day printed this headline: '_Fell Eight Stories to Death_.' A
smaller city paper copied it with this ironical comment: '_Headlines
cannot be too complete. But what a great story it would have been if he
had fallen eight stories to life!_' And then one of the biggest and
most influential and respected newspapers in the world copied both
headlines and comment and gave the whole thing a fresh title: '_Falls to
Life--Immortal_.' Doctor--you can't afford to lie to-night where you
do--and take chances on that last thing's not being true. The greatest
minds the world knows believe it is true."

A silence fell. Then Van Horn spoke: "Burns, do you think it's wise to
turn a patient's thoughts into this channel on the eve of a crisis?"

Burns regarded him closely. "Can you tell me, Doctor," he asked, "that
your thoughts weren't already in that channel?"

"Suppose they were. And suppose I even admitted the possibility that you
were right--which, mind you, I don't--what use is it to argue the
question at this late hour?"

"Because the hour is not too late. If you want to sleep quietly to-night
and wake fit for what's coming, put yourself in the hands of the Maker
of heaven and earth before you sleep. Then, whether there's a hereafter
or not won't matter for you; you'll leave that to Him. But you'll be in
His hands--and that's the only place it's safe to be."

"Suppose I told you I didn't believe in any such Being."

"I should tell you you knew better--and knew it with every fibre of
you."

The two pairs of eyes steadily regarded each other. In Burns's flamed
sincerity and conviction. In Van Horn's grew a curious sort of
suffering. He moved restlessly on his pillow.

"If I had known you were a fanatic as well as a fighter I might have
hesitated to call you, even though I believe in you as a surgeon," he
said somewhat huskily.

"It's surgery you're getting from me to-night, but I cut to cure. A mind
at rest will help you through to-morrow."

"Why should you think my mind isn't at rest? You commended me for my
quiet mind when you came in."

"For your cool control. But your unhappy spirit looked out of your eyes
at me, and I've spoken to that. I couldn't keep silence. Forgive me,
Doctor; I'm a blunt fellow, as you have reason to know. I haven't liked
you, and you haven't liked me. We've fought each other all along the
line. But your calling me now has touched me very much, and I find
myself caring tremendously to give you the best I have. And not only the
best my hands have to give you, but the best of my brain and heart. And
that belief in the Almighty and His power to rule this world and other
worlds is the best I have. I'd like to give it to you."

He rose, his big figure towering like a mountain of strength above the
slender form in the bed.

Van Horn stretched up his hand to say good-night. "I know you thought it
right to say this to me, Burns," he said, "and I have reason to know
that when you think a thing is right you don't hesitate to do it. I like
your frankness--better than I seem to. I trust you none the less for
this talk; perhaps more. Do your best by me in the morning, and whatever
happens, your conscience will be free."

Burns's two sinewy hands clasped the thin but still firm one of Van
Horn. "As I said just now, I've never wanted more to do my best than for
you," came very gently from his lips. "And I can tell you for your
comfort that the more anxious I am to do good work the surer I am to do
it. I don't know why it should be so; I've heard plenty of men say it
worked just the other way with them. Yes, I do know why. I think I'll
tell you the explanation. The more anxious I am the harder I pray to my
God to make me fit. And when I go from my knees to the operating-room I
feel armed to the teeth."

He smiled, a brilliant, heart-warming smile, and suddenly he looked, to
the man on the bed who gazed at him, more like a conqueror than any one
he had ever seen. And all at once James Van Horn understood why, with
all his faults of temper and speech, his patients loved and clung to Red
Pepper Burns; and why he, Van Horn himself, had not been able to defeat
Burns as a rival. There was something about the man which spoke of
power, and at this moment it seemed clear, even to the skeptic, that it
was not wholly human power.

Burns bent over the bed. "Good-night, Doctor," he said softly, almost as
he might have spoken to a child. Then, quite as he might have spoken to
a child, he added: "Say a bit of a prayer before you go to sleep. It
won't hurt you, and--who knows?--even unbelieving, you may get an
answer."

Van Horn smiled up at him wanly. "Good-night, Doctor," he replied.
"Thank you for coming in--whether I sleep the better or the worse for
it."

       *       *       *       *       *

If there were anything of the fanatic about Redfield Pepper Burns--and
the term was one which no human being but Van Horn had ever applied to
him--it was the fighting, not the fasting, side of his character which
showed uppermost at ten next morning. He came out of his hospital
dressing-room with that look of dogged determination written upon brow
and mouth which his associates knew well, and they had never seen it
written larger. From Doctor Buller, who usually gave the anesthetics in
Burns's cases, and from Miss Mathewson, who almost invariably worked
upon the opposite side of the operating table, to the newest nurse whose
only mission was to be at hand for observation, the staff more or less
acutely sensed the situation. Not one of those who had been for any
length of time in the service but understood that it was an unusual
situation.

That James Van Horn and R.P. Burns had long been conscious or
unconscious rivals was known to everybody. Van Horn was not popular with
the hospital staff, while Burns might have ordered them all to almost
any deed of valour and have been loyally obeyed. But Van Horn's standing
in the city was well understood; he was admired and respected as the
most imposing and influential figure in the medical profession there
represented. He held many posts of distinction, not only in the city,
but in the state, and his name at the head of an article in any
professional magazine carried weight and authority. And that he should
have chosen Burns, rather than have sent abroad for any more famous
surgeon, was to be considered an extraordinary honour indicative of a
confidence not to have been expected.

Altogether, there was more than ordinary tension observable in the
operating-room just before the appointed hour. A number of the city's
surgeons were present--Grayson, Fields, Lenhart, Stevenson--men
accustomed to see Burns at work and to recognize his ability as
uncommon. Not that they often admitted this to themselves or to one
another, but the fact remains that they understood precisely why Van
Horn, if he chose a local man at all--which of itself had surprised them
very much--had selected Burns. Not one of them, no matter how personally
he felt antagonistic to this most constantly employed member of the
profession, but would have felt safer in his hands in such a crisis than
in those of any of his associates.

Burns held a brief conference with Miss Mathewson, who having been with
him in his office and his operative work for the entire twelve years of
his practice, was herself all but a surgeon and suited him better than
any man, with her deft fingers and sure response to his slightest
indication of intention. The others found themselves watching the two as
they came forward, cool, steady, ready for the perfect team work they
had so long played. If both hearts were beating a degree faster than
usual there was nothing to show it. Nobody knew what had passed between
the two. If they had known they might have understood why they worked so
perfectly together.

"You're going to give me your best to-day, Amy, eh?"

"You know that, Doctor Burns."

"Of course I know it. But I want a little better than your best. This is
one of the cases where every second is going to count. We have to make
all the speed that's in us without a slip. I can trust you. I didn't
tell you before because I didn't want you thinking about it. But I tell
you now because I've got to have the speed. All right; that's all."

He gave her one quick smile, then his face was set and stern again, as
always at this moment, for it was the moment when he caught sight of his
patient, quietly asleep, being brought to him. And it was the moment
when one swift echo of the prayer he had already made upon his knees
leaped through his mind--to be gone again as lightning flashes through a
midnight sky. After that there was to be no more prayer, only action.

       *       *       *       *       *

The watching surgeons unconsciously held their breath as the operation
began. For the patient on the table was James Van Horn, and the man who
had taken Van Horn's life into his hands was not a great surgeon from
New York or Boston, as was to have been anticipated, but their everyday
colleague Burns. And at that moment not one of them envied him his
chance.

Ellen had seldom waited more anxiously for the word her husband always
sent her at such times. He fully recognized that the silent partner in
crises like these suffered a very real and trying suspense, the greater
that there was nothing she could do for him except to send him to his
work heartened by the thought of her and of her belief in him.

It was longer than usual, on this more than ordinarily fateful morning,
before Ellen received the first word from the hospital. When it came it
was from an attendant and it was not reassuring:

"Doctor Burns wishes me to tell you that the patient has come through
the operation, but is in a critical condition. He will not leave him at
present."

This meant more hours of waiting, during which Ellen could set her mind
and hand to nothing which was not purely mechanical. She was realizing
to the full that it was the unknown factor of which Burns had often
spoken, the unforeseen contingency, which might upset all the
calculations and efforts of science and skill. Well she knew that,
though her husband's reputation was an assured one, it might suffer
somewhat from the loss of this prominent case. Ellen felt certain that
this last consideration was one to weigh little with Burns himself
compared with his personal and bitter regret over an unsuccessful effort
to save a life. But it seemed to her that she cared from every point of
view, and to her the time of waiting was especially hard to bear.

There was one relief in the situation--never had she had her vigils
shared as Jordan King was sharing this one. As the hours went by, both
by messages over the telephone and by more than one hurried drive out to
see Ellen in person, did he let her know that his concern for Burns's
victory was only second to her own.

"He's got to save him!" was his declaration, standing in her doorway,
late in the evening, hat in hand, bright dark eyes on Ellen's. "And the
way he's sticking by, I'm confident he will. That bull-dog grip of his
we know so well would pull a ton of lead out of a quicksand. He won't
give up while there's a breath stirring, and even if it stops he'll
start it again--with his will!"

"You are a loyal friend." Ellen's smile rewarded him for this blindly
assured speech, well as she knew how shaky was the foundation on which
he might be standing. "But the last message he sent was only that no
ground had been lost."

"Well, that's a good deal after ten hours." He looked at his watch.
"Keep a brave heart, Mrs. Burns. I'm going to the hospital now to see if
I can get just a glimpse of our man before we settle down for the night.
And I want to arrange with Miss Dwight--she was my nurse--to let me know
any news at any hour in the night."

It was at three in the morning that King called her to say with a ring
of joy in his voice: "There's a bit of a gain, Mrs. Burns. It looks
brighter."

It was at eight, five hours later, that Burns himself spoke to her. His
voice betrayed tension in spite of its steadiness. "We're holding hard,
Len; that's about all I can say."

"Dear--are you getting any rest?"

"Don't want any; I'm all right. I'll not be home till we're out of this,
you know. Good-bye, my girl." And he was gone, back to the bedside. She
knew, without being told, that he had hardly left it.

Thirty-six hours had gone by, and Ellen and Jordan King had had many
messages from the hospital before the one came which eased their anxious
minds: "Out of immediate danger." It was almost another thirty-six
before Burns came home.

She had never seen him look more radiantly happy, though the shadows
under his eyes were heavy, and there were lines of fatigue about his
mouth. Although she had been watching for him he took her by surprise
at last, coming upon her in the early morning just as she was descending
the stairs. With both arms around her, as she stood on the bottom stair,
he looked into her eyes.

"The game's worth the candle, Len," he said.

"Even though you've been burning the candle at both ends, dear? Yes, I
know it is. I'm so glad--so glad!"

"We're sworn friends, Van and I. Can you believe it? Len, he's simply
the finest ever."

She smiled at him. "I'm sure you think so; it's just what you would
think, my generous boy."

"I'll prove it to you by and by, when I've had a wink of sleep. A bath,
breakfast, and two hours of rest--then I'll be in service again. Van's
resting comfortably, practically out of danger, and--Len, his eyes
remind me of a sick child's who has waked out of a delirium to find his
mother by his side."

"Is that the way his eyes look when they meet yours?"

He nodded. "Of course. That's how I know."

"O Red," she said softly--"to think of the eyes that look at you like
that!"

"They don't all," he answered as the two went up the stairs side by
side. "But Van--well, he's been through the deep waters, and he's
found--a footing on rock where he expected shifting sands. Ah, there's
my boy! Give him to me quick!"

The Little-Un, surging plumply out of the nursery, tumbled into his
father's arms, and submitted, shouting with glee, to the sort of
huggings, kissings, and general inspection to which he was happily
accustomed when Burns came home after a longer absence than usual.

Just before he went back to the hospital, refreshed by an hour's longer
sleep than he had meant to take, because Ellen would not wake him
sooner, Burns opened the pile of mail which had accumulated during his
absence. He sat on the arm of the blue couch, tossing the letters one by
one upon the table behind it, in two piles, one for his personal
consideration, the other for Miss Mathewson's answering. Ellen, happily
relaxing in a corner of the couch, her eyes watching the letter opening,
saw her husband's eyes widen as he stooped to pick up a small blue paper
which had fallen from the missive he had just slitted. As he unfolded
the blue slip and glanced at it, an astonished whistle leaped to his
lips.

"Well, by the powers--what's this?" he murmured. "A New York draft for a
thousand dollars, inclosed in a letter which says nothing except a
typewritten '_From One of the most grateful of all grateful patients_.'
Len, what do you think of that? Who on earth sent it? I haven't had a
rich patient who hasn't paid his bill, or who won't pay it in due form
when he gets around to it. And the poor ones don't send checks of this
size."

"I can't imagine," she said, studying the few words on the otherwise
blank sheet, and the postmark on the typewritten envelope, which showed
the letter also to have come from New York. "You haven't had a patient
lately who was travelling--a hotel case, or anything of that sort?"

He shook his head. "None that didn't pay before he left--and none that
seemed particularly grateful anyhow. Well, I must be off. The thousand's
all right, wherever it came from, eh? And I want to get back to Van. I'd
put that draft in the fire rather than go back to find the slightest
slip in his case. I think, if I should, I'd lose my nerve at last."



CHAPTER XII

THE TRUTH ABOUT SUSQUEHANNA


Jordan King, directing his car with necessary caution through the
traffic of a small but crowded city, two hundred miles from home,
suddenly threw out his clutch and jammed his brakes into urgent use.
Beside him Aleck, flinging out a hasty arm to warn drivers pressing
closely behind, gazed at his employer in wonder. There was absolutely
nothing to stop them, and an autocratic crossing policeman just ahead
was impatiently waving them forward.

But King, his eyes apparently following something or some one in the
throng, which had just negotiated the crossing of the street at right
angles to his own direction, spoke hurriedly: "Turn to the right here,
Aleck, and wait for me at the first spot down that street where they'll
let you stop."

He was out of the car and off at a dangerous slant through the
procession of moving vehicles, dodging past great trucks and slipping by
the noses of touring cars and coupés with apparent recklessness of
consequences.

Aleck, sliding into the driver's seat and forced to lose sight of
King's tall figure because of the urgency of the crowding mass behind,
was moved to curious speculation. As he turned the designated corner, he
was saying to himself with a chuckle: "He always was quick on the
trigger, but I'll be darned if that wasn't about the hastiest move I
ever saw him make. What's he after, anyhow, in this town where he just
told me he didn't know a soul? Well, it's some wait for me, I'll bet."

If he could have seen his master as that young man plunged along through
the crowd Aleck would have found plenty to interest him. King was doing
his best to pursue and catch up with a figure which he now and again
lost sight of in the throng, so that he slowed his pace lest he go by it
unawares. The fear that he might thus miss and lose it sharpened his
gaze and gave to his face an intent look, so that many people stared at
him as he passed them, wondering what the comely, dark-eyed young man
was after that he was rushing at such a pace.

There came a moment when King paused, uncertain, his heart standing
still with the certainty that he was off the track and that his quarry
had unconsciously doubled and eluded him. An instant later he drew a
quick breath of relief, his gaze following a slender black figure as it
mounted the steps of an old church which stood, dingy but still
dignified, close by the highway, its open doors indicating that it had
remained in this downtown district for a purpose. King sprang up the
steps, then paused in the great doorway, beyond which the darkness and
quiet of an empty interior silently invited passers-by to rest and
reflect. At that moment a deep organ note sounded far away upon the
stillness, and King took a step inside, looking cautiously about him.
The figure he pursued had vanished, and after a moment more he crossed
the vestibule and stood, hat in hand, gazing into the dim depths beyond.

For a little, coming as he had from the strong light of the September
afternoon, he could see absolutely nothing; but as his vision cleared he
was able to make out a small group of people far toward the front of the
spacious interior, and the form of the organist himself before his
manuals low at the right of the choir. But he had to look for some time
before he could descry at the farthermost side of the church a solitary
head bent upon the rail before it. Toward this point the young man
slowly made his way, his heart hammering a most unwonted tattoo within
his broad breast.

Several pews behind and to one side of the kneeling figure he took his
place, his gaze fastened upon it. He looked his fill, secure in his own
position, which was in the shadow of a great stone pillar, where the
dim light from the sombre-toned windows did not touch him. And, as he
looked, the conviction he had had since his first meeting with this girl
deepened and strengthened into resolution. He would not lose her again,
no matter what it might cost to hold her. He would not believe a man
could be mistaken in that face, in that exquisite and arresting
personality. There was not such another in the whole wide world.

Suddenly she turned, and evidently she saw that some one was near her,
though he knew it was not possible that she had recognized him. She sat
quite still for another five minutes, then rose very quietly, gathering
up the remembered black handbag, and moved like a young nun into the
aisle, head downbent. King slipped out of his pew, made a quick circuit
around the pillar, and met her squarely as she came toward him.

He stood still in her path, and she, looking partially up to pass him
with that complete ignoring of his presence which young women of
breeding employ when strangers threaten to take notice, heard his low
voice: "Please don't run away--from your friend!"

"Oh--Mr. King!" Her eyes, startled, met his indeed, and into her face,
as she spoke his name, poured a flood of beautiful colour, at sight of
which King all but lost his head.

He managed, however, to retain sufficient sanity to grasp her hand after
the fashion approved as the proper sign of cordiality in meeting a
valued acquaintance, and to say, in an outwardly restrained manner:
"Won't you sit down again here? We can talk so much better than
outside--and I must talk with you. You have no idea how hard I have
tried to find you."

She seemed to hesitate for an instant, but ended by slipping into the
pew by the pillar where King had been sitting, and to which he pointed
her, as the most sheltered spot at hand, where the group of people at
the front of the church were hidden from view, and only the now low and
throbbing notes of the organ could remind the pair that they were not
absolutely alone.

"This is wonderful--for me," King began, in the hushed tone befitting
such a place--and the tone which suited his feelings as well. "I have
thought of you a million times in these months and longed to know just
how you were looking. Now that I see for myself my mind is a bit
easier--and yet--I'm somehow more anxious about you than ever."

"There's no reason why you should be anxious about me, Mr. King," she
answered, her eyes releasing themselves from his in spite of his effort
to hold them. "I'm doing very well, and--quite enjoying my work. How
about yourself? I hardly need to ask."

"Oh, I'm coming on finely, thank you. I've plunged into my work with all
the zest I ever had. Only one thing has bothered me: I seemed unable to
get out of the habit of watching the mails. And they have been mighty
disappointing."

"You surely couldn't expect," she said, smiling a little, "that once you
were well again you should be pampered with frequent letters."

"I certainly haven't been pampered. One letter in all this time--"

"Book agents haven't much time for writing letters. And surely engineers
must be busy people."

He was silent for a minute, studying her. She seemed, in spite of her
youth and beauty, wonderfully self-reliant. Again, as in the room at the
hospital, her quiet poise of manner struck him. And though she was once
more dressed in the plainest and least costly of attire--as well as he
could judge--he knew that he should be entirely willing to take her
anywhere where he was known, with no mental apologies for her
appearance. This thought immediately put another into his mind, on which
he lost no time in acting.

"This is a great piece of luck," said he, and went on hurriedly, trying
to use diplomacy, which always came hard with him: "I don't want it to
slip away too soon. Why couldn't we spend the rest of the day together?
I'm just on my way back home from a piece of work I've been
superintending outside this city. I've plenty of time ahead of me, and
I'm sure the book business can't be so pressing that you couldn't take a
few hours off. If you'll venture to trust yourself to me we'll go off
into the country somewhere, and have dinner at some pleasant place. Then
we can talk things over--all sorts of things," he added quickly, lest
this seem too pointed. "Won't you--please?"

She considered an instant, then said frankly: "Of course that would be
delightful, and I can't think of a real reason why I shouldn't do it.
What time is it, please?"

"Only three o'clock. We'll have time for a splendid drive and I'll
promise to get you back at any hour you say--after dinner."

"It must be early."

"It shall be. Well, then--will you wait in the vestibule out here two
minutes, please? I'll have the car at the door."

Thus it happened that Aleck, four blocks away, having just comfortably
settled to the reading of a popular magazine on mechanics, found himself
summarily ejected from his seat, and sent off upon his own resources
for a number of hours.

"Take care of yourself, Al, and have a good time out of it if you can,"
urged his master, and Aleck observed that King's eyes were very bright
and his manner indicative of some fresh mental stimulus received during
the brief time of his absence. "Have the best sort of a dinner wherever
you like."

"All right, Mr. King," Aleck responded. "I hope you're going to have a
good time yourself," he added, "after all the work you've done to-day. I
was some anxious for fear you'd do too much."

"No chance, Aleck, with Doctor Burns's orders what they are. And I
didn't do a thing but stand around and talk with the men. I'm feeling
fit as a fiddle now." And King drove off in haste.

Back at the church he watched with intense satisfaction Miss Anne
Linton's descent of the dusty steps. The September sunshine was
hazily bright, the air was warmly caressing, and there were several
hours ahead containing such an opportunity as he had not yet had to
try at finding out the things he had wanted to know. Not this girl's
circumstances--though he should be interested in that topic--not any
affairs of hers which she should not choose to tell him; but the future
relationship between herself and him--this was what he must establish
upon some sort of a definite basis, if it were possible.

Out through the crowded streets into the suburbs, on beyond these to the
open country, the car took its way with as much haste as was compatible
with necessary caution. Once on the open road, however, and well away,
King paid small attention to covering distance. Indeed, when they had
reached a certain wooded district, picturesque after the fashion of the
semi-mountainous country of that part of the state, he let his car idle
after a fashion most unaccustomed with him, who was usually principally
concerned with getting from one place to another with the least possible
waste of time.

And now he and Anne Linton were talking as they never had had the chance
to talk before, and they were exploring each other's minds with the zest
of those who have many tastes in common. King was confirming that of
which he had been convinced by her letters, that she was thoroughly
educated, and that she had read and thought along lines which had
intensely interested him ever since he had reached the thinking age. To
his delight he found that she could hold her own in an argument with as
close reasoning, as logical deduction, as keen interpretation, as any
young man he knew. And with it all she showed a certain quality of
appreciation of his own side of the question which especially pleased
him, because it proved that she possessed that most desirable power,
rare among those of her sex as he knew them--the ability to hold herself
free from undue bias.

Yet she proved herself a very girl none the less by suddenly crying out
at sight of certain tall masses of shell-pink flowers growing by the
roadside in a shady nook, and by insisting on getting out to pick them
for herself.

"It's so much more fun," she asserted, "to choose one's own than to
watch a man picking all the poorest blossoms and leaving the very best."

"Is that what we do?" King asked, his eyes feasting upon the sight of
her as she filled her arms with the gay masses, her face eager with her
pleasure in them.

"Yes, indeed. Or else you get out a jackknife and hack off great
handfuls of them at once, and bring them back all bleeding from your
ruthless attack."

"I see. And you gather them delicately, so they don't mind, I suppose.
Yet--I was given to understand that 'Susquehanna' died first. I've
always wondered what you did to her. I'd banked on her as the huskiest
of the lot."

She flashed a quick look at him, compounded of surprise, mirth, and
something else whose nature he could not guess. "'Susquehanna' was
certainly a wonderful rose," she admitted.

"Yet only next morning she was sadly drooping. I know, because I
received a report of her. And I lost my wager."

"You should have known better," she said demurely, her head bent over
her armful of flowers, "than to make a wager on the life of a rose sent
to a girl who was just coming back to life herself."

"You weren't so gentle with 'Susquehanna,' then, I take it, as you are
with those wild things you have there."

"I was not gentle with her at all." Anne lifted her head with a
mischievously merry look. "If you must know--I kissed her--hard!"

"Ah!" Jordan King sat back, laughing, with suddenly rising colour. "I
thought as much. But I suppose I'm to take it that you did it solely
because she was 'Susquehanna'--not because--"

"Certainly because she was her lovely self, cool and sweet and a
glorious colour, and she reminded me--of other roses I had known.
Flowers to a convalescent are only just a little less reviving than
food. 'Susquehanna' cheered me on toward victory."

"Then she died happy, I'm sure."

He would have enjoyed keeping it up with nonsense of this pleasurable
sort, but as soon as Anne was back in the car she somehow turned him
aside upon quite different ground, just how he could not tell. He found
himself led on to talk about his work, and he could not discover in her
questioning a trace of anything but genuine interest. No man, however
modest about himself, finds it altogether distressing to have to tell a
charming girl some of his more exciting experiences. In the days of his
early apprenticeship King had spent many months with a contracting
engineer of reputation, who was executing a notable piece of work in a
wild and even dangerous country, and the young man's memory was full of
adventures connected with that period. In contrast with his present
work, which was of a much more prosaic sort, it formed a chapter in his
history to which it stirred him even yet to turn back, and at Anne's
request he was soon launched upon it.

So the afternoon passed amidst the sights and sounds of the September
country. And now and again they stopped to look at some fine view from a
commanding height, or flew gayly down some inviting stretch of smooth
road. By and by they were at an old inn, well up on the top of the
world, which King had had in mind from the start, and to which he had
taken time, an hour before, to telephone and order things he had hoped
she would like. When the two sat down at a table in a quiet corner
there were flowers and shining silver upon a snowy cloth, and the food
which soon arrived was deliciously cooked, sustaining the reputation the
place had among motorists. And in the very way in which Anne Linton
filled her position opposite Jordan King was further proof that, in
spite of all evidence to the contrary, she belonged to his class.

Their table was lighted with shaded candles, and in the soft glow Anne's
face had become startlingly lovely. She had tucked a handful of the
shell-pink wild flowers into the girdle of her black dress, and their
hue was reflected in her cheeks, glowing from the afternoon's drive in
the sun. As King talked and laughed, his eyes seldom off her face, he
felt the enchantment of her presence grow upon him with every minute
that went by.

Suddenly he blurted out a question which had been in his mind all day.
"I had a curious experience a while back," he said, "when I first got
out into the world. I was in Doctor Burns's car, and we met some people
in a limousine, touring. They stopped to ask about the road, and there
was a girl in the car who looked like you. But--she didn't recognize me
by the slightest sign, so I knew of course it couldn't be you."

He looked straight at Anne as he spoke, and saw her lower her eyes for a
moment with an odd little smile on her lips. She did not long evade his
gaze, however, but gave him back his look unflinchingly.

"It was I," she said. "But I'm not going to tell you how I came to be
there, nor why I didn't bow to you. All I want to say is that there was
a reason for it all, and if I could tell you, you would understand."

Well, he could not look into her face and not trust her in whatever she
might elect to do, and he said something to that effect. Whereupon she
smiled and thanked him, and said she was sorry to be so mysterious. He
recalled with a fresh thrill how she had looked at him at that strange
meeting, for now that he knew that it was surely she, the great fact
which stayed by him was that she had given him that look to remember,
given it to him with intent, beyond a doubt.

They came out presently upon a long porch overhanging the shore of a
small lake. The September sun was already low, and the light upon the
blue hills in the distance was turning slowly to a dusky purple. The
place was very quiet, for it was growing late in the tourist season, and
the inn was remote from main highways of travel.

"Can't we stay here just a bit?" King asked pleadingly. "It won't take
us more than an hour to get back if we go along at a fair pace. We came
by a roundabout way."

With each hour that passed he was realizing more fully how he dreaded
the end of this unexpected and absorbing adventure. So far none of his
attempts to pave the way for other meetings, in other towns to which she
might be going in the course of her book selling, had resulted in
anything satisfactory. And even now Anne Linton was shaking her head.

"I think I must ask you to take me back now," she said. "I want to come
into the house where I am staying not later than I usually do."

So he had to leave the pleasant, vine-clad porch and take his place
beside her in the car again. It did not seem to him that he was having a
fair chance. But he thought of a plan and proceeded to put it into
execution. He drove steadily and in silence until the lights of the
nearing city were beginning to show faintly in the twilight, with the
sky still rich with colour in the west. Then, at a certain curve in the
road far above the rest of the countryside, he brought the car to a
standstill.

"I can't bear to go on and end this day," he said in a low voice of
regret. "How can I tell when I shall see you again? Do you realize that
every time I have said a word about our meeting in the future you've
somehow turned me aside? Do you want me to understand that you would
rather never see me again?"

Her face was toward the distant lights, and she did not answer for a
minute. Then she said slowly: "I should like very much to see you again,
Mr. King. But you surely understand that I couldn't make appointments
with you to meet me in other towns. This has happened and it has been
very pleasant, but it wouldn't do to make it keep happening. Even though
I travel about with a book to sell, I--shall never lose the sense
of--being under the protection of a home such as other girls have."

"I wouldn't have you lose it--good heavens, no! I only--well--" And now
he stopped, set his teeth for an instant, and then plunged ahead. "But
there's something I can't lose either, and it's--you!"

She looked at him then, evidently startled. "Mr. King, will you drive
on, please?" she said very quietly, but he felt something in her tone
which for an instant he did not understand. In the next instant he
thought he did understand it.

He spoke hurriedly: "You don't know me very well yet, do you? But I
thought you knew me well enough to know that I wouldn't say a thing like
that unless I meant all that goes with it--and follows it. You see--I
love you. If--if you are not afraid of a man in a plaster jacket--it'll
come off some day, you know--I ask you to marry me."

There was a long silence then, in which King felt his heart pumping
away for dear life. He had taken the bit between his teeth now,
certainly, and offered this girl, of whom he knew less than of any human
being in whom he had the slightest interest, all that he had to give.
Yet--he was so sure he knew her that, the words once out, he realized
that he was glad he had spoken them.

At last she turned toward him. "You are a very brave man," she said,
"and a very chivalrous man."

He laughed rather huskily. "It doesn't take much of either bravery or
chivalry for a man to offer himself to you."

"It must take plenty of both. You are--what you are, in the big world
you live in. And you dare to trust an absolute stranger, whom you have
no means of knowing better, with that name of yours. Think, Mr. Jordan
King, what that name means to you--and to your mother."

"I have thought. And I offer it to you. And I do know what you are. You
can't disguise yourself--any more than the Princess in the fairy tale.
Do you think all those notes I had from you at the hospital didn't tell
the story? I don't know why you are selling books from door to door--and
I don't want to know. What I do understand is--that you are the first of
your family to do it!"

"Mr. King," she said gravely, "women are very clever at one
thing--cleverer than men. With a little study, a little training, a
little education, they can make a brave showing. I have known a shopgirl
who, after six months of living with a very charming society woman,
could play that woman's part without mistake. And when it came to
talking with men of brains, she could even use a few clever phrases and
leave the rest of the conversation to them, and they were convinced of
her brilliant mind."

"You have not been a shopgirl," he said steadily. "You belong in a home
like mine. If you have lost it by some accident, that is only the
fortune of life. But you can't disguise yourself as a commonplace
person, for you're not. And--I can't let you go out of my life--I
can't."

Again silence, while the sunset skies slowly faded into the dusky blue
of night, and the lights over the distant city grew brighter and
brighter. A light wind, warmly smoky with the pleasant fragrance of
burning bonfires, touched the faces of the two in the car and blew small
curly strands of hair about Anne Linton's ears.

Presently she spoke. "I am going to promise to write to you now and
then," she said, "and give you each time an address where you may
answer, if you will promise not to come to me. I am going to tell you
frankly that I want your letters."

"You want my letters--but not me?"

"You put more of yourself into your letters than any one else I know. So
in admitting that I want your letters I admit that I want yourself--as a
good friend."

"No more than that?"

"That's quite enough, isn't it, for people who know each other only as
we do?"

"It's not enough for me. If it's enough for you, then--well, it's as I
thought."

"What did you think?"

He hesitated, then spoke boldly: "No woman really wants--a mangled human
being for her own."

Impulsively she laid her hand on his. Instantly he grasped it. "Please,"
she said, "will you never say--or think--that, again?"

He gazed eagerly into her face, still duskily visible to his scrutiny.
"I won't," he answered, "if you'll tell me you care for me. Oh, don't
you?--don't you?--not one bit? Just give me a show of a chance and I'll
make you care. I've _got_ to make you care. Why, I've thought of nothing
but you for months--dreamed of you, sleeping and waking. I can't stop;
it's too late. Don't ask me to stop--Anne--dear!"

No woman in her senses could have doubted the sincerity of this young
man. That he was no adept at love making was apparent in the way he
stumbled over his phrases; in the way his voice caught in his throat;
in the way it grew husky toward the last of this impassioned pleading of
his.

He still held her hand close. "Tell me you care--a little," he begged of
her silence.

"No girl can be alone as I am now and not be touched by such words," she
said very gently after a moment's hesitation. "But--promising to marry
you is a different matter. I can't let you rashly offer me so much when
I know what it would mean to you to bring home a--book agent to your
mother!"

He uttered a low exclamation. "My life is my own, to do with as I
please. If I'm satisfied, that's enough. You are what I want--all I
want. As for my mother--when she knows you--But we'll not talk of that
just yet. What I must know is--do you--can you--care for me--enough to
marry me?" His hand tightened on hers, his voice whispered in her ear:
"Anne, darling--can't you love me? I want you so--oh--I want you so! Let
me kiss you--just once, dear. That will tell you--"

But she drew her hand gently but efficiently away; she spoke firmly,
though very low: "No--no! Listen--Jordan King. Sometime--by next spring
perhaps, I shall be in the place I call home. When that time comes I
will let you know. If you still care to, you may come and see me there.
Now--won't you drive on, please?"

"Yes, if you'll let me--just once--_once_ to live on all those months!
Anne--"

But, when he would have made action and follow close upon the heels of
pleading he found himself gently but firmly prevented by an uplifted
small hand which did not quite touch his nearing face. "Ah, don't spoil
that chivalry of yours," said her mellow, low voice. "Let me go on
thinking you are what I have believed you are all along. Be patient, and
prove whether this is real, instead of snatching at what might dull your
judgment!"

"It wouldn't dull it--only confirm it. And--I want to make you remember
me."

"You have provided that already," she admitted, at which he gave an
ejaculation as of relief--and of longing--and possibly of recognition of
her handling of the whole--from her point of view--rather difficult
situation. At the back of his mind, in spite of his disappointment at
being kept at arm's length when he wanted something much more definite,
was the recognition that here was precisely the show of spirit and
dignity which his judgment approved and admired.

"I'll let you go, if I must; but I'll come to you--if you live in a
hovel--if you live in a cave--if you live--Oh, I know how you live!"

"How do I live?" she asked, laughing a little unsteadily, and as if
there were tears in her eyes, though of this he could not be sure.

"You live in a plain little house, with just a few of the things you
used to have about you; rows of books, a picture or two, and some old
china. Things may be a bit shabby, but everything is beautifully neat,
and there are garden flowers on the table, perhaps white lilacs!"

"Oh, what a romanticist!" she said, through her soft laughter. "One
would think you wrote novels instead of specifications for concrete
walls. What if you come and find me living with my older sister, who
sews for a living, plain sewing, at a dollar a day? And we have a long
credit account at the grocery, which we can't pay? And at night our
little upstairs room is full of neighbours, untidy, loud-talking,
commonplace women? And the lamp smokes--"

"It wouldn't smoke; you would have trimmed it," he answered, quickly and
with conviction. "But, even if it were all like that, you would still be
the perfect thing you are. And I would take you away--"

"If you don't drive on, Mr. King," she interposed gently, "you will soon
be mentally unfit to drive at all. And I must be back before the
darkness has quite fallen. And--don't you think we have talked enough
about ourselves?"

"I like that word," he declared as he obediently set the car in motion.
"Ourselves--that sounds good to me. As long as you keep me with you that
way I'll try to be satisfied. One thing I'm sure of: I've something to
work for now that I didn't have this morning. Oh, I know; you haven't
given me a thing. But you're going to let me come to see you next
spring, and that's worth everything to me. Meanwhile, I'll do my level
best--for you."

       *       *       *       *       *

When he drew up before the door of the church, where, in spite of his
entreaties that he be allowed to take her to her lodging place, Anne
insisted on being left, he felt, in spite of all he had gained that day,
a sinking of the heart. Though the hour was early and the neighbourhood
at this time of day a quiet one, and though she assured him that she had
not far to go, he was unhappy to leave her thus unaccompanied.

"I wish I could possibly imagine why it must be this way," he said to
himself as he stood hat in hand beside his car, watching Anne Linton's
quickly departing figure grow more and more shadowy as the twilight
enveloped it. "Well, one thing is certain: whatever she does there's a
good and sufficient reason; and I trust her."



CHAPTER XIII

RED HEADED AGAIN


Crowding his hat upon his head with a vigorous jerk after his reluctant
parting with Anne Linton at the church door, Jordan King jumped into his
car and made his way slowly through the streets to the hotel where Aleck
awaited him. For the first few miles out of the city he continued to
drive at a pace so moderate that Aleck more than once glanced
surreptitiously at him, wondering if he were actually going to sleep at
the wheel. It was not until they were beyond the last environs and far
out in the open country that, quite suddenly, the car was released from
its unusual restraint and began to fly down the road toward home at the
old wild speed.

Somehow or other, after this encounter, King could not settle down to
his work till he had seen Red Pepper Burns. He could not have explained
why this should be so, for he certainly did not intend to tell his
friend of the meeting with Anne Linton, or of the basis upon which his
affairs now stood. But he wanted to see Burns with a sort of hunger
which would not be satisfied, and he went to look him up one evening
when he himself had returned early from his latest trip to the concrete
dam.

He found Burns just setting forth on a drive to see a patient in the
country, and King invited himself to go with him, running his own car
off at one side of the driveway and leaping into Burns's machine with
only a gay by-your-leave apology. But he had not more than slid into his
seat before he found that he was beside a man whom he did not know.

King had long understood that Red Pepper's significant cognomen stood
for the hasty temper which accompanied the coppery hair and hazel eyes
of the man with the big heart. But such exhibitions of that temper as
King had witnessed had been limited to quick explosions from which the
smoke had cleared away almost as soon as the sound of warfare had died
upon the air. He was in no way prepared, therefore, to find himself in
the company of a man who was so angry that he could not--or would
not--speak to one of his best friends.

"Fine night," began the young man lightly, trying again, after two
silent miles, to make way against the frost in the air. "I don't know
when we've had such magnificent September weather."

No answer.

"I hope you don't mind my going along. You needn't talk at all, you
know--and I'll be quiet, too, if you prefer."

No answer. King was not at all sure that Burns heard him. The car was
running at a terrific pace, and the profile of the man at the wheel
against the dusky landscape looked as if it were carved out of stone.
The young man fell silent, wondering. Almost, he wished he had not been
so sure of his welcome, but there was no retreating now.

Five miles into the country they ran, and King soon guessed that their
destination might be Sunny Farm, a home for crippled children which was
Ellen Burns's special charity, established by herself on a small scale a
few years before and greatly grown since in its size and usefulness.
Burns was its head surgeon and its devoted patron, and he was accustomed
to do much operative work in its well-equipped surgery, bringing out
cases which he found in the city slums or among the country poor, with
total disregard for any considerations except those of need and
suffering. King knew that the place and the work were dearer to the
hearts of both Doctor and Mrs. Burns than all else outside their own
home, and he began to understand that if anything had gone wrong with
affairs there Red Pepper would be sure to take it seriously.

Quite as he had foreseen--since there were few homes on this road,
which ran mostly through thickly wooded country--the car rushed on to
the big farmhouse, lying low and long in the night, with pleasant lights
twinkling from end to end. Burns brought up with a jerk beside the
central porch, leaped out, and disappeared inside without a word of
explanation to his companion, who sat wondering and looking in through
the open door to the wide hall which ran straight through the house to
more big porches on the farther side.

Everything was very quiet at this hour, according to the rules of the
place, all but the oldest patients being in bed and asleep by eight
o'clock. Therefore when, after an interval, voices became faintly
audible, there was nothing to prevent their reaching the occupant of the
car.

In a front room upstairs at one side of the hall two people were
speaking, and presently through the open window Burns was heard to say
with incisive sternness: "I'll give you exactly ten minutes to pack your
bag and go--and I'll take you--to make sure you do go."

A woman's voice, in a sort of deep-toned wail, answered: "You aren't
fair to me, Doctor Burns; you aren't fair! You--"

"Fair!" The word was a growl of suppressed thunder. "Don't talk of
fairness--you! You don't know the meaning of the word. You haven't been
fair to a single kid under this roof, or to a nurse--or to any one of
us--you with your smiles--and your hypocrisy--you who can't be trusted.
That's the name for you--She-Who-Can't-Be-Trusted. Go pack that bag,
Mrs. Soule; I won't hear another word!"

"Oh, Doctor--"

"Go, I said!"

Outside, in the car, Jordan King understood that if the person to whom
Burns was speaking had not been a woman that command of his might have
been accompanied by physical violence, and the offending one more than
likely have been ejected from the door by the thrust of two vigorous
hands on his shoulders. There was that in Burns's tone--all that and
more. His wrath was quite evidently no explosion of the moment, but the
culmination of long irritation and distrust, brought to a head by some
overt act which had settled the offender's case in the twinkling of an
eye.

Burns came out soon after, followed by a woman well shrouded in a heavy
veil.

King jumped out of the car. "I'm awfully sorry," he tried to say in
Burns's ear. "Just leave me and I'll walk back."

"Ride on the running board," was the answer, in a tone which King knew
meant that he was requested not to argue about it.

Therefore when the woman--to whom he was not introduced--was seated, he
took his place at her feet. To his surprise they did not move off in the
direction from which they had come, but went on over the hills for five
miles farther, driving in absolute silence, at high speed, and arriving
at a small station as a train was heard to whistle far off somewhere in
the darkness.

Burns dashed into the station, bought a ticket, and had his passenger
aboard the train before it had fairly come to a standstill at the
platform. King heard him say no word of farewell beyond the statement
that a trunk would be forwarded in the morning. Then the whole strange
event was over; the train was only a rumble in the distance, and King
was in his place again beside the man he did not know.

       *       *       *       *       *

Silence again, and darkness, with only the stars for light, and the
roadside rushing past as the car flew. Then suddenly, beside the deep
woods, a stop, and Burns getting out of the car, with the first
voluntary words he had spoken to King that night.

"Sit here, will you? I'll be back--sometime."

"Of course. Don't hurry."

It was an hour that King sat alone, wondering. Where Burns had gone, he
had no notion, and no sound came back to give him hint. As far as King
knew there was no habitation back there in the depths into which his
companion had plunged; he could not guess what errand took him there.

At last came a distant crashing as of one making his way through heavy
undergrowth, and the noise drew nearer until at length Burns burst
through into the road, wide of the place where he had gone in. Then he
was at the car and speaking to King, and his voice was very nearly his
own again.

"Missed my trail coming back," he said. "I've kept you a blamed long
time, haven't I?"

"Not a bit. Glad to wait."

"Of course that's a nice, kind lie at this time of night, and when
you've no idea what you've been waiting for. Well, I'll tell you, and
then maybe you'll be glad you assisted at the job."

He got in and drove off, not now at a furious pace, but at an ordinary
rate of speed which made speech possible. And after a little he spoke
again. "Jord," he said, "you don't know it, but I can be a fiend
incarnate."

"I don't believe it," refused King stoutly.

"It's absolutely true. When I get into a red rage I could twist a neck
more easily than I can get a grip on myself. Sometimes I'm afraid I'll
do it. Years back when I had a rush of blood to the head of that sort I
used to take it out in swearing till the atmosphere was blue; but I
can't do that any more."

"Why not?" King asked, with a good deal of curiosity.

"I did it once too often--and the last time I sent a dying soul to the
other world with my curses in its ears--the soul of a child, Jord. I
lost my head because his mother had disobeyed my orders, and the little
life was going out when it might have stayed. When I came to myself I
realized what I'd done--and I made my vow. Never again, no matter what
happened! And I've kept it. But sometimes, as to-night--Well, there's
only one thing I can do: keep my tongue between my teeth as long as I
can, and then--get away somewhere and smash things till I'm black and
blue."

"That's what you've been doing back in the woods?" King ventured to ask.

"Rather. Anyhow, it's evened up my circulation and I can be decent
again. I'm not going to tell you what made me rage like the bull of
Bashan, for it wouldn't be safe yet to let loose on that. It's enough
that I can treat a good comrade like you as I did and still have him
stand by."

"I felt a good deal in the way, but I'm glad now I was with you."

"I'm glad, too, if it's only that you've discovered at last what manner
of man I am when the evil one gets hold of me. None of us likes to be
persistently overrated, you know."

"I don't think the less of you for being angry when you had a just
cause, as I know you must have had."

"It's not the being angry; it's the losing control."

"But you didn't."

"Didn't I?" A short, grim laugh testified to Burns's opinion on this
point. "Ask that woman I put on the train to-night. Jord, on her arm is
a black bruise where I gripped her when she lied to me; I gripped her--a
woman. You might as well know. Now--keep on respecting me if you can."

"But I do," said Jordan King.



CHAPTER XIV

A STRANGE DAY


"Len, will you go for a day in the woods with me?"

Ellen Burns looked up from the old mahogany secretary which had been
hers in the southern-home days. She was busily writing letters, but the
request, from her busy husband, was so unusual that it arrested her
attention. Her glance travelled from his face to the window and back
again.

"I know it's pretty frosty," he acknowledged, "but the sun is bright,
and I'll build you a windbreak that'll keep you snug. I'm aching for a
day off--with you."

"Artful man! You know I can't resist when you put it that way, though I
ought not to leave this desk for two hours. Give me half an hour, and
tell me what you want for lunch."

"Cynthia and I'll take care of that. She's putting up the stuff now,
subject to your approval."

He was off to the kitchen, and Ellen finished the note she had begun,
put away the writing materials and letters, and ran up to her room. By
the end of the stipulated half hour she was down again, trimly clad in a
suit of brown tweeds, with a big coat for extra warmth and a close hat
and veil for breeze resistance.

"That's my girl! You never look prettier to my eyes than when you are
dressed like this. It's the real comrade look you have then, and I feel
as if we were shoulder to shoulder, ready for anything that might come."

"Just as if it weren't always that," she said in merry reproach as she
took her place beside him and the car rolled off.

"It's always great fun to go off with you unexpectedly like this," she
went on presently. "It seems so long since we've done it. It's been such
a busy year. Is everybody getting well to-day, that you can manage a
whole day?"

"All but one, and he doesn't need me just now. I could keep busy, of
course, but I got a sudden hankering for a day all alone with you in the
woods; and after that idea once struck me I'd have made way for it
anyhow, short of actually running away from duty."

"You need it, I know. We'll just leave all care behind and remember
nothing except how happy we are to be together. That never grows old,
does it, Red?"

"Never!" He spoke almost with solemnity, and gave her a long look as he
said it, which she met with one to match it. "You dear!" he murmured.
"Len, do you know I never loved you so well as I do to-day?"

"I wonder why?" She was smiling, and her colour, always duskily soft in
her cheek, grew a shade warmer. "Is it the brown tweeds?"

"It's the brown tweeds, and the midnight-dark hair, and the beautiful
black eyes, and--the lovely soul of my wife."

"Why, Red, dear--and all this so early in the morning? How will you end
if you begin like this?"

"I don't know--or care." Something strange looked out of his eyes for a
minute. "I know what I want to say now and I'm saying it. So much of the
time I'm too busy to make love to my wife, I'm going to do it
to-day--all day. I warn you now, so you can sidetrack me if you get
tired of it."

"I'm very likely to," she said with a gay tenderness. "To have you make
love to me without the chance of a telephone call to break in will be a
wonderful treat."

"It sure will to me."

It was a significant beginning to a strange day. They drove for twenty
miles, to find a certain place upon a bluff overlooking a small lake of
unusual beauty, far out of the way of the ordinary motor traveller.
They climbed a steep hill, coming out of the wooded hillside into the
full sunlight of the late October day, where spread an extended view of
the countryside, brilliant with autumn foliage. The air was crisp and
invigorating, and a decided breeze was stirring upon this lofty point,
so that the windbreak which Burns began at once to build was a necessary
protection if they were to remain long.

An hour of hard work, at which Ellen helped as much as she was allowed,
established a snug camp, its back against a great bowlder, its windward
side sheltered by a thick barrier of hemlocks cleverly placed, a brisk
bonfire burning in an angle where an improvised chimney carried off its
smoke and left the corner clear and warm.

"There!" Burns exclaimed in a tone of satisfaction as he threw himself
down upon the pine needle-strewn ground at Ellen's side. "How's this for
a comfortable nest? Think we can spend six contented hours here, my
honey?"

"Six days if you like. How I wish we could!"

"So do I. Jove, how I'd like it! I haven't had enough of you to satisfy
me for many a moon. And there's no trying to get it, except by running
away like this."

"We ought to do it oftener."

"We ought, but we can't. At least we couldn't. Perhaps now--"

He broke off, staring across the valley where the lake lay to the
distant hills, smoky blue and purple in spite of the clear sunlight
which lay upon them.

"Perhaps now--what?"

"Well--I might not be able to keep up my activity forever, and the time
might come when I should have to take less work and more rest."

"But you said 'now.'"

"Did I? I was just looking ahead a bit. Len, are you hungry, or shall we
wait a while for lunch?"

"Don't you want a little sleep before you eat? You haven't had too much
of it lately."

"It would taste rather good--if I might take it with my head in your
lap."

She arranged her own position so that she could maintain it comfortably,
and he extended his big form at full length upon the rug he had brought
up from the car and upon which she was already sitting. He smiled up
into her face as he laid his head upon her knees, and drew one of her
hands into his. "Now your little boy is perfectly content," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was an hour before he stirred, an hour in which Ellen's eyes had
silently noted that which had escaped them hitherto, a curious change in
his colour as he lay with closed eyes, a thinness of the flesh over the
cheek bones, dark shadows beneath the eyes. Whether he slept she could
not be sure. But when he sat up again these signs of wear and tear
seemed to vanish at the magic of his smile, which had never been
brighter. Nevertheless she watched him with a new sense of anxiety,
wondering if there might really be danger of his splendid physique
giving way before the rigour of his life.

She noted that he did not eat heartily at lunch, though he professed to
enjoy it; and afterward he was his old boyish self for a long time. Then
he grew quiet, and a silence fell between the pair while they sat
looking off into the distance, the October sunlight on their heads.

And then, quite suddenly, something happened.

"Red! What is the matter?" Ellen asked, startled.

In spite of the summer warmth of the spot in which they sat her
husband's big frame had begun to quiver and shake before her very eyes.
Evidently he was trying hard to control the strange fit of shivering
which had seized him.

"Don't be s-scared, d-dear," he managed to get out between rigid jaws.
"It's just a bit of a ch-chill. I'll b-be all right in a m-minute."

"In all this sunshine? Why, Red!" Ellen caught up the big coat she had
brought to the place and laid it about his shoulders--"you must have
taken cold. But how could you? Come--we must go at once."

"N-not just yet. I'll g-get over this s-soon."

He drew his arms about his knees, clasping them and doing his best to
master the shivering, while Ellen watched him anxiously. Never in her
life with Red had she seen him cold. His rugged frame, accustomed to all
weathers, hardened by years of sleeping beside wide-opened windows in
the wintriest of seasons, was always healthily glowing with warmth when
others were frankly freezing.

The chill was over presently, but close upon its heels followed
reaction, and Red Pepper's face flushed feverishly as he said, with a
gallant attempt at a smile: "Sit down again a minute, dear, while I tell
you what I'm up against. I wasn't sure, but this looks like it. You've
got to know now, because I'm undoubtedly in for a bit of trouble--and
that means you, too."

She waited silently, but her hand slipped into his. To her surprise he
drew it gently away. "Try the other one," he said. "It's in better shape
for holding."

She looked down at the hand he had withdrawn and which now lay upon his
knee. It was the firmly knit and sinewy hand she knew so well, the
typical hand of the surgeon with its perfectly kept, finely sensitive
fingertips, its broad and powerful thumb, its strong but not too thick
wrist. Not a blemish marked its fair surface, yet--was it very slightly
swollen? She could hardly be sure.

"Dear, tell me," she begged. "What has happened? Are you hurt--or
ill--and haven't let me know?"

"I thought it might not amount to anything; it's only a scratch in the
palm. But--"

"Red--did you get it--operating? On what?"

He nodded. "Operating. It's the usual way, the thing we all expect to
get some day. I've been lucky so far; that's all."

"But--you didn't give yourself a scratch; you never have done that?"

"No, not up to date anyhow. I might easily enough; I just haven't
happened to."

"Amy didn't?--She couldn't!"

"She didn't--and couldn't, thank heaven. She'd kill herself if she ever
did that unlucky trick. No, she wasn't assisting this time. It was an
emergency case, early yesterday morning--one of the other men brought in
the case. It was hopeless, but the family wanted us to try."

"What sort of a case, Red?" Ellen's very lips had grown white.

"Now see here, sweetheart, I had to tell you because I knew I was in
for a little trouble, but there's no need of your knowing any more than
this about it. It was just an accident--nobody's fault. The blamed
electric lights went off--for not over ten seconds, but it was the wrong
ten seconds. I didn't even know I was scratched till the thing began to
set up a row. I don't even yet understand how I got it in the palm.
That's unusual."

"Who did it?"

"I'm not going to tell you. He feels badly enough now, and it wasn't his
fault. He asked me at the time if he had touched me in the dark and I
said no. It was as slight a thing as that. If we'd known it at the time
we'd have fixed it up. We didn't, and that's all there was to it."

"You must tell me what sort of a case it was, Red."

He looked down at her. The two pairs of eyes met unflinchingly for a
minute, and each saw straight into the depths of the other. Burns
thought the eyes into which he gazed had never been more beautiful;
stabbed though they were now with intense shock, they were yet speaking
to him such utter love as it is not often in the power of man to
inspire.

He managed still to talk lightly. "I expect you know. What's the use of
using scientific terms? The case was rottenly septic; never mind the
cause. But--I'm going to be able to throw the thing off. Just give me
time."

"Let me see it, Red."

Reluctantly he turned the hand over, showing the small spot in which was
quite clearly the beginning of trouble. "Doesn't look like much, does
it?" he said.

"And it is not even protected."

"What was the use? The infection came at the time."

"And you did all that work in the windbreak. Oh, you ought not to have
done that!"

"Nonsense, dear. I wanted to, and I did it mostly with my left hand
anyhow."

"Your blood must be of the purest," she said steadily.

"It sure is. I expect I'll get my reward now for letting some things
alone that many men care for, and that I might have cared for, too--if
it hadn't been for my mother--and my wife."

"You are strong--strong."

"I am--a regular Titan. Yes, we'll fight this thing through somehow;
only I have to warn you it'll likely be a fight. I'll go to the
hospital."

"No!" It was a cry.

"No? Better think about that. Hospital's the best place for such cases."

"It can't be better than home--when it's like ours. We'll fight our
fight there, Red--and nowhere else."

He put one hand to his arm suddenly with an involuntary movement and a
contraction of the brow. But in the next breath he was smiling again.
"Perhaps we'd better be getting back," he admitted. "My head's beginning
to be a trifle unsteady. But, I'm glad a thousand times we've had this
day."

"Was it wise to take it, dear?"

"I'm sure of it. What difference could it make? Now we've had it--to
remember."

She shivered, there in the warm October sunlight. A chill seemed
suddenly to have come into the air, and to have struck her heart.

No more words passed between them until they were almost home. Then
Ellen said, very quietly: "Red, would you be any safer in the hospital
than at home?"

"Not safer, but where it would be easier for all concerned, in case
things get rather thick."

"Easier for you, too?"

He looked at her. "Do I have to speak the truth?"

"You must. If you would rather be there--"

"I would rather be as near you as I can stay. There's no use denying
that. But Van Horn wants me at the hospital."

"Is he to look after you?"

"Yes. Queer, isn't it? But he wants the job. No," at the unspoken
question in her face, "it wasn't Van. But he came in just as the trouble
began to show and--well, you know we're the best of friends now, and I
think I'd rather have him--and Buller, good old Buller--than anybody
else."

"Oh, but you won't need them both?" she cried, and then bit her lip.

"Of course not. But you know how the profession are--if one of them gets
down they all fall over one another to offer their services."

"They may all offer them, but they will have to come to you. You are
going to stay at home. You shall have the big guest room--made as you
want it. Just tell me what to do--"

"You may as well strip it," he told her quietly. "And--Len, I'd rather
be right there than anywhere else in the world. I think, when it's
ready, I'll just go to bed. I'd bluff a bit longer if I could,
but--perhaps--"

"I'm sure you ought," she said as quietly as he. But she was very glad
when the car turned in at the driveway.



CHAPTER XV

CLEARED DECKS


Two hours later, under her direction and with her efficient help,
Cynthia and Johnny Carruthers in medical parlance had "stripped" the
guest room, putting it into the cleared bare order most useful for the
purpose needed. If Ellen's heart was heavy as she saw the change made
she let nothing show. And when, presently, she called her husband from
the couch where he had lain, feverish and beginning to be tortured by
pain, and put him between the cool, fresh sheets, she had her reward in
the look he gave, first at the room and then at her.

"Decks all cleared for action," he commented with persistent
cheerfulness, "and the captain on deck. Well--let them begin to fire;
we're ready. All I know is that I'm glad I'm on your ship. Just pray,
Len, will you--that I keep my nerve?"

This was the beginning, as Burns himself had foreseen, of that which
proved indeed to be a long fight. Strong of physique though he
unquestionably was, pure as was the blood which flowed in his veins,
the poison he had received unwittingly and therefore taken no immediate
measures to combat was able to overcome his powers of resistance and
take shattering hold upon his whole organism. There followed day after
day and week after week of prostrating illness, during which he suffered
much torturing pain in the affected hand and arm, with profound
depression of mind and body, though he bore both as bravely as was to
have been expected. Two nurses, Amy Mathewson and Selina Arden,
alternated in attendance upon him, day and night, and Ellen herself was
always at hand to act as substitute, or to share in the care of the
patient when it was more than ordinarily exacting.

As she watched the powerful form of her husband grow daily weaker before
the assaults of one of the most treacherous enemies modern science has
to face, she felt herself in the grip of a great dread which could not
be for an hour thrown off. She did not let go of her courage; but
beneath all her serenity of manner--remarked often in wonder by the
nurses and physicians--lay the fear which at times amounted to a
conviction that for her had come the end of earthly happiness.

She was able to appreciate none the less the devoted and skillful
attention given to Burns by his colleagues. Dr. Max Buller had long been
his attached friend and ally, and of him such service as he now
rendered was to have been counted on. But concerning Dr. James Van Horn,
although Ellen well knew how deeply he felt in Burns's debt for having
in all probability saved his life only a few months earlier, she had had
no notion what he had to offer in return. She had not imagined how warm
a heart really lay beneath that polished urbanity of manner with its
suggestion of coldness in the very tone of his voice--hitherto. She grew
to feel a distinct sense of relief and dependence every time he entered
the door, and his visits were so many that it came to seem as if his
motor were always standing at the curb.

"You know, Len, Van's a tremendous trump," Burns himself said to her
suddenly, in the middle of one trying night when Doctor Van Horn had
looked in unexpectedly to see if he might ease his patient and secure
him a chance of rest after many hours of pain. "It seems like a queer
dream, sometimes, to open my eyes and see him sitting there, looking at
me as if I were a younger brother and he cared a lot."

"He does care," Ellen answered positively. "You would be even surer of
it if you could hear him talk with me alone. He speaks of you as if he
loved you--and what is there strange about that? Everybody loves you,
Red. I'm keeping a list of the people who come to ask about you and
send you things. You haven't heard of half of them. And to-day Franz
telephoned to offer to come and play for you some night when you
couldn't sleep with the pain. He begged to be allowed to do the one
thing he could to show his sympathy."

"Bless his heart! I'd like to hear him. I often wish my ears would
stretch to reach him in his orchestra." Burns moved restlessly as he
spoke. A fresh invasion of trouble in his hand and arm was reaching a
culmination, and no palliative measures could ease him long. "You've no
idea, Len," he whispered as Ellen's hand strayed through his heavy
coppery locks with the soothing touch he loved well, "what it means to
me to have you stand by me like this. If I give in now it won't be for
want of your supporting courage."

"It's you who have the courage, Red--wonderful courage."

He shook his head. "It's just the thought of you--and the Little-Un--and
Bobby Burns--that's all. If it wasn't for you--"

He turned away his head. She knew the thing he had to fear--the thing
she feared for him. Though his very life was in danger it was not that
which made the threatening depths of black shadow into which he looked.
If he should come out of this fight with a crippled right hand there
would be no more work for him about which he could care. Neither Van
Horn nor Buller would admit that there was danger of this; but Grayson,
who had seen the hand yesterday; Fields, who was making blood counts for
the case; Lenhart and Stevenson, who had come to make friendly calls
every few days and who knew from Fields how things were going--all were
shaking their heads and saying in worried tones that it looked pretty
"owly" for the hand, and that Van Horn and Buller would do well if they
pulled Burns through at all.

Outside of the profession Jordan King was closest in touch with Burns's
case. He persistently refused to believe that all would not come out as
they desired. He came daily, brought all sorts of offerings for the
patient's comfort, and always ran up to see his friend, hold his left
hand for a minute and smile at him, without a hint in his ruddy face of
the wrench at the heart he experienced each time at sight of the
steadily increasing devastation showing in the face on the pillow.

"You're a trump, Jord," Burns said weakly to him one morning. King had
just finished a heart-warming report of certain messages brought from
some of Burns's old chronic patients in the hospital wards, where it was
evident the young man had gone on purpose to collect them. "Every time I
look at you I think what an idiot I was ever to imagine you needed me
to put backbone into you, last spring."

"But I did--and you did it. And if you think I showed more backbone to
go through a thing that hardly took it out of me at all than you to
stand this devilish slow torture and weakness--well, it just shows
you've lost your usual excellent judgment. See?"

"I see that you're one of the best friends a man ever had. There's only
one other who could do as much to keep my head above water--and he isn't
here."

"Why isn't he? Who is he?" demanded King eagerly. "Tell me and I'll get
him."

"No, no. He could do no more than is being done. I merely get to
thinking of him and wishing I could see him. It's my old friend and chum
of college days, John Leaver, of Baltimore."

"The big surgeon I've heard you and Mrs. Burns speak of? Great heavens,
he'd come in a minute if he knew!"

"I've no doubt he would, but I happen to know he's abroad just now."

King studied his friend's face, saw that Burns was already weary with
the brief visit, and soon went away. But it was to a consultation with
Mrs. Burns as to the possibility of communicating with Doctor Leaver.

"I wrote his wife not long ago of Red's illness," Ellen said, "but I
didn't state all the facts; somehow I couldn't bring myself to do that.
They are in London; they go over every winter. I had a card only
yesterday from Charlotte giving a new address and promising to write
soon."

"Wasn't he the man you told me of who had a bad nervous breakdown a few
years ago? The one Red had stay with you here until he got back his
nerve?"

"Yes; and he has been even a more brilliant operator ever since."

"I remember the whole story; there was a lot of thrill in it as you told
it. How Red made him rest and build up and then fairly forced him to
operate, against his will, to prove to him that he had got his nerve
back? Jove! Do you think that man wouldn't cross the ocean in a hurry if
he thought he could lift his finger to help our poor boy?"

King's speech had taken on such a fatherly tone of late that Ellen was
not surprised to hear him thus allude to his senior.

"Yes, Jack Leaver would do anything for Red, but I know Red would never
let us summon him from so far."

"Summon him from the antipodes--I would. And we don't have to consult
Red. His wish is enough. Leave it to me, Mrs. Burns; I'll take all the
responsibility."

She smiled at him, feeling that she must not express the very natural
and unwelcome thought that to call a friend from so far away was to
admit that the situation was desperate. Burns had said many times that
Doctor Van Horn was using the very latest and most acceptable methods
for his relief, and that his confidence in him was absolute. None the
less she knew that the very sight of John Leaver's face would be like
that of a shore light to a ship groping in a heavy fog.

Within twenty-four hours Jordan King came dashing in to wave a cable
message before her. "Read that, and thank heaven that you have such
friends in the world."

At a glance her eyes took in the pregnant line, and the first tears she
had shed leaped to her eyes and misted them, so that she had to wipe
them away to read the welcome words again.

     We sail Saturday. Love to Doctor and Mrs. Burns.

     LEAVER.

A week later, Burns, waking from an uneasy slumber, opened his eyes upon
a new figure at his bedside. For a moment he stared uncomprehending into
the dark, distinguished face of his old friend, then put out his
uninjured hand with a weak clutch.

"Are you real, Jack?" he demanded in a whisper.

"As real as that bedpost. And mighty glad to see you, my dear boy. They
tell me the worst is over, and that you're improving. That's worth the
journey to see."

"You didn't come from--England?"

"Of course I did. I'd come from the end of the world, and you know it!
Why in the name of friendship didn't somebody send me word before?"

"Who sent it now?"

"That's a secret. I hoped to be able to do something for you, Red, just
to even up the score a little, but the thing that's really been done has
been by yourself. You put your own clean blood into this tussle and it's
brought you through."

"I don't feel so very far through yet, but I suppose I'm not quite so
much of a dead fish as I was a week ago. There's only one thing that
bothers me."

"I can guess. Well, Red, I saw Doctor Van Horn on my way upstairs, and
he tells me you're going to get a good hand out of this. He'll be up
shortly to dress it, and then I may see for myself."

"That will be a comfort. I've wished a thousand times you might, though
nobody could have given me better care than these bully fellows have.
But I've a sort of superstition that one look at trouble from Jack
Leaver is enough to make it cut and run."

By and by Dr. John Leaver came downstairs and joined his wife and Ellen.
His face was grave with its habitual expression, but it lighted as the
two looked up. "He's had about as rough a time as a man can and weather
it," he said; "but I think the trouble is cornered at last, and there'll
be no further outbreak. And the hand will come out better than could
have been expected. He will be able to use it perfectly in time. But it
will take him a good while to build up. He must have a sea voyage--a
long one. That will do you all kinds of good, too," he added, his keen
eyes on the face of his friend's wife.

"She looks etherealized," Charlotte Leaver said, studying Ellen
affectionately. "You've had a long, anxious time, haven't you, Len,
darling?" Mrs. Leaver went on. "And we knew nothing--we who care more
than anybody in the world. You can't imagine how glad we are to be here
now, even though we can't help a bit."

"You can help, you do. And I know what it means to Red to have his
beloved friend come to him."

"Then I hope you know what it means to me to come," said John Leaver.

The Leavers stayed for several days, while Burns continued to improve,
and before they left they had the pleasure of seeing him up and
partially dressed, the bandages on his injured hand reduced in extent,
and his eyes showing his release from torture. His face and figure gave
touching evidence of what he had endured, but he promised them that
before they saw him again he would be looking like himself.

"I wonder," Burns said, on the March day when he first came downstairs
and dropped into his old favourite place in a corner of the big blue
couch, "whether any other fellow was ever so pampered as I. I look like
thirty cents, but I feel, in spite of this abominable limpness, as if my
stock were worth a hundred cents on the dollar. And when we get back
from the ocean trip I expect to be a regular fighting Fijian."

"You look better every day, dear," Ellen assured him. "And when it's all
over, and you have done your first operation, you'll come home and say
you were never so happy in your life."

Burns laughed. He looked over at Jordan King, who had come in on purpose
to help celebrate the event of the appearance downstairs. "She promises
me an operation as she would promise the Little-Un a sweetie, eh? Well,
I can't say she isn't right. I was a bit tired when this thing began,
but when I get my strength back I know how my little old 'lab' and
machine shop will call to me. Just to-day I got an idea in my head that
I believe will work out some day. My word, I know it will!"

The other two looked at each other, smiling joyously.

"He's getting well," said Ellen Burns.

"No doubt of it in the world," agreed Jordan King.

"Sit down here where I can look at you both," commanded the
convalescent. "Jord, isn't my wife something to look at in that blue
frock she's wearing? I like these things she melts into evenings, like
that smoky blue she has on now. It seems to satisfy my eyes."

"Not much wonder in that. She would satisfy anybody's eyes."

"That's quite enough about me," Ellen declared. "The thing that's really
interesting is that your eyes are brighter to-night, Red, than they have
been for two long months. I believe it's getting downstairs."

"Of course it is. Downstairs has been a mythical sort of place for a
good while. I couldn't quite believe in it. I've thought a thousand
times of this blue couch and these pillows. I've thought of that old
grand piano of yours, and of how it would seem to hear you play it
again. Play for me now, will you, Len?"

She sat down in her old place, and his eyes watched her hungrily, as
King could plainly see. To the younger man the love between these two
was something to study and believe in, something to hope for as a
wonderful possibility in his own case.

When Ellen stopped playing Burns spoke musingly. Speech seemed a
necessity for him to-night--happiness overflowed and must find
expression.

"I've had a lot of stock advice for my patients that'll mean something I
understand for myself now," he said. He sat almost upright among the
blue pillows, his arm outstretched along the back of the couch, his long
legs comfortably extended. It was no longer the attitude of the invalid
but of the well man enjoying earned repose. "I wonder how often I've
said to some tired mother or too-busy housewife who longed for rest: 'If
you were to become crippled or even forbidden to work any more and made
to rest for good, how happy these past years would seem to you when you
were tired because you had accomplished something.' I can say that now
with personal conviction of its truth. It looks to me as if to come in
dog-tired and drop into this corner with the memory of a good job done
would be the best fun I've ever had."

"I know," King nodded. "I learned that, too, last spring."

"Of course you did. And now, instead of going to work, I've got to take
this blamed sea voyage of a month. Van and Leaver are pretty hard on me,
don't you think? The consolation in that, though, is that my wife needs
it quite as much as I do. I want to tan those cheeks of hers. Len, will
you wear the brown tweeds on shipboard?"

"Of course I will. How your mind seems to run to clothes to-night. What
will Your Highness wear himself?"

"The worst old clothes I can find. Then when I get back I'll go to the
tailor's and start life all over again, with the neatest lot of stuff he
can make me--a regular honeymoon effect." Burns laughed, lifting his
chin with the old look of purpose and power touching his thin face.

"I'm happy to-night," he went on; "there's no use denying it. I'm not
sorry, now it's over, I've had this experience, for I've learned some
things I've never known before and wouldn't have found out any other
way. I know now what it means to be down where life doesn't seem worth
much, and how it feels to have the other fellow trying to pull you out.
I know how the whisper of a voice you love sounds to you in the middle
of a black night, when you think you can't bear another minute of pain.
Oh, I know a lot of things I can't talk about, but they'll make a
difference in the future. If I don't have more patience with my patients
it'll be because memory is a treacherous thing, and I've forgotten what
I have no business to forget--because the good Lord means me to
remember!"



CHAPTER XVI

WHITE LILACS AGAIN


It was the first day of May. Burns and Ellen had not been at home two
days after their return from the long, slow sea voyage which had done
wonders for them both, when Burns received a long-distance message which
sent him to his wife with his eyes sparkling in the old way.

"Great luck, Len!" he announced. "I'm to get my first try-out in
operating, after the late unpleasantness, on an out-of-town case. Off in
an hour with Amy for a place two hundred miles away in a spot I never
heard of--promises to be interesting. Anyhow, I feel like a small boy
with his first kite, likely to go straight off the ground hitched to the
tail of it."

"I'm glad for you, Red. And I wish"--she bit her lip and turned
away--"it may be a wonderful case."

"That's not what you started to say." He came close, laid a hand on
either side of her face, and turned it up so that he could look into it,
his lips smiling. "Tell me. I'll wager I know what you wish."

"No, you can't."

"That you could go with me--to take Amy's place and assist."

A flood of colour poured over her face, such a telltale, significant
colour as he had rarely seen there before. She would have concealed it
from him, but he was merciless. A strange, happy look came into his own
face. "Len, don't hide that from me. It's the one thing I've always
wished you'd show, and you never have. I'm such a jealous beggar myself
I've wanted you to care--that way, and I've never been able to discover
a trace of it."

"But I'm not really jealous in the way you think. How could I be?--with
not the slightest cause. It's only--envy of Amy because she is--so
necessary to you. O Red, I never, never meant to say it!"

"I'd rather hear you say it than anything else on earth. I'd like to
hear you own that you were mad with jealousy, because I've been eaten up
with it myself ever since I first laid eyes on you. Not that you've ever
given me a reason for it, but because it's my red-headed nature. Now I
must go; but I'll take your face with me, my Len, and if I do a good
piece of work it'll be for love of you."

"And of your work, Red. I'm not jealous of that; I'm too proud of it."

"I know you are, bless you."

Then he was off, all his old vigour showing in his preparations for the
hurried trip, and as he went away Ellen felt as might those on shore
watching a lusty life-saver put off in a boat to pull for a sinking
ship.

       *       *       *       *       *

Burns and Amy Mathewson were away three days, during which Red kept
Ellen even more closely in touch with himself than usual, by means of
the long wire. When he returned it was with the bearing of a conqueror,
for the case had tried his regained mettle and he had triumphed more
surely than he could have hoped.

"The hand's as good as new, Len, and the touch not a particle affected.
Van's a trump, and I stopped on the way out to tell him so. He was
pleased as a boy; think of it, Len--my ancient enemy and my new good
friend! And the case is fine as silk. They've a good local man to look
after it till I come again, which will be Thursday. And I'm going to
drive there--and take you--and Jord King and Jord's mother. How's that
for a plan?"

"It sounds very jolly, Red, but will the Kings go? And why Mrs. King?
Will she care to?"

"Because I've found some old friends of hers in the place, though I'll
not tell her whom. Besides, I want to keep on her right side, for
reasons. And Jord's back has been bothering him lately and I've
prescribed a rest. We'll take the Kings' limousine and go in state.
It'll be arranged in five minutes, see if it won't. By the way, Jord
says Aleck's new arm is really going to do him some service besides
improving his looks."

He pulled her away to the telephone and held her on his knee while he
talked to Jordan King, giving her a laughing hug, when, to judge by the
things he was saying into the transmitter, he had brought about his
effect.

"Yes, I know I sound crazy," he admitted to King, "but you must give
something to a man who has been buried alive and dug up again. I've
taken this notion and I'm going to carry it through. Mrs. King will
enjoy every foot of the way, and you and I will jump out and pick apple
blossoms for the ladies whenever they ask. It's a peach of a plan, and
the whole idea is to minister to my pride. I want to arrive in a great
prince of a car like yours and impress the natives down there. See? Yes,
go and put it up to your mother, and then call me up. Don't you dare say
no!"

"No wonder he's astonished," Ellen commented while they waited. "For
you, who are never content except when you're at the steering wheel, to
ask Jordan, who is another just like you, to elect to travel in a
limousine with a liveried chauffeur--well, I admit I am puzzled myself."

"Why, it's simple enough. I want to take you and Mrs. Alexander King.
She wouldn't go a step in Jord's roadster at his pace. And if she would,
and we went in pairs, Jord would be always wanting to change off and
take you with him--and as you very well know I'm not made that way. Stop
guessing, Len, and prepare yourself to break down Mrs. King's
opposition, if she makes any--which I don't expect."

Mrs. King made no opposition, or none which her son thought best to
convey to the Burnses, and the trip was arranged.

"Is there a good hotel in the place?" Ellen asked.

"No hotel within miles--nor anything else. We're to stay overnight with
the family. You won't mind. They can put us up pretty comfortably, even
if not just as we're accustomed to be." Burns's eyes were twinkling, and
he refused to say more on the subject.

It did not matter. It was early May, and the world was a wilderness of
budding life, and to go motoring seemed the finest way possible to get
into sympathy with spring at her loveliest. And although Ellen would
have much preferred to drive alone with her husband in his own car, she
found herself anticipating the affair, as it was now arranged, with not
a little curiosity to stimulate her interest. Mrs. Alexander King, for
her son's sake, was sure to be a complaisant and agreeable companion,
and Ellen was glad to feel that such a pleasure might come her way.

"This is great stuff!" exulted Jordan King early on Thursday morning as
the big, shining car, standing before Burns's door, received its full
complement of passengers. "Mother and I are tremendously honoured,
aren't we, mother?"

"Even though we had the audacity to invite ourselves and ask for this
magnificent car?" Burns inquired, grasping Mrs. Alexander King's gloved
hand, and smiling at her as her delicate face was lifted to him with a
look of really charming greeting. He knew well enough that she liked him
in spite of certain pretty plain words he had said to her in the past,
and he had prepared himself to make her like him still better on this
journey together. "I'm the one who is responsible, you know. I've merely
broken out in a new place."

"We appreciate your caring to include us in your party," Mrs. King said
cordially. "The car is all too little used, for Jordan prefers his own,
and I go about mostly in the small coupe. I have never taken so long a
drive as you plan, and it will doubtless be a pleasant experience. I see
so little of my son I am happy to be with him on such a trip."

"Altogether we're mightily pleased with the whole arrangement," declared
Jordan King, regarding Mrs. Burns with high approval. "Mother, did you
ever see a more distinguished-looking pair?"

"In spite of our brown faces?" Ellen challenged him gayly.

"My wife's face simply turns peachy when she tans. I look like an
Indian," observed Burns, bestowing certain professional luggage where it
would be most out of the way.

"That's it; you've said it. Great Indian Chief go make big medicine for
sick squaw; take along whole wigwam; wigwam tickled to death to go!" And
King settled himself with an air of complete satisfaction.

He had had no word from Anne Linton for nearly two months, and was as
restless as a young man may well be when his affairs do not go to please
him. She had kept her promise and had written from time to time, but
though her letters were the most interesting human documents King had
ever dreamed a woman could write, they were, from the point of view of
the suitor, extremely unsatisfying. As she had agreed, she had given him
with each letter an address to which he might send an immediate reply,
and he had made the most of each such opportunity; but, since it takes
two to seal a bargain, he had not been able to feel his cause much
advanced by all his efforts. He had welcomed this chance to accompany
Burns as a diversion from his restless thoughts, for a few days'
interval in his engineering plans, caused by a delay in the arrival of
certain necessary material, was making him wild with eagerness for
something--anything--to happen.

Two hundred miles in a high-powered car over finely macadamized roads
are more quickly and comfortably covered in these days than a
thirty-mile drive behind horses over such country highways as existed a
decade ago. Aleck, at the wheel, his master's orders in his willing ears
from time to time, gradually accelerated his rate of speed until by the
end of the first two hours he was carrying his party along at a pace
which Mrs. King had frequently condemned as one which would be to her
unbearable. Burns and King exchanged glances more than once as the car
flew past other travellers, and the good lady, talking happily with
Ellen or absorbed in some far-reaching view, took no note of the fact
that she was annihilating space with a smooth swiftness comparable only
to the flight of some big, strong-winged bird.

"Over halfway there, and plenty of time for lunch," Burns announced.
"And here's the best roadside inn in the country. If it hadn't been for
our coming this way I should have suggested bringing our own hampers,
but I wanted you to have some of this little Englishman's brook trout
and hot scones."

Mrs. King enjoyed that hot and delicious meal as she had seldom enjoyed
a luncheon anywhere. As she sat at the faultlessly served table, her
eyes travelling from the wide view at the window to the faces of her
companions, she grew more and more cheerful in manner, and was even
heard to laugh softly aloud now and then at one of Burns's gay quips,
turning to Ellen in appreciation of her husband's wit, or to Jordan
himself as he came back at his friend with a rejoinder worth hearing.

"This is doing my mother a world of good," King said in Ellen's ear as
the party came out on a wide porch to rest for a half hour before taking
to the car again. "I don't know when I've seen her expand like this and
seem really to be forgetting her cares and sorrows."

"It's a pleasure to watch her," Ellen agreed. "Red vowed this morning
that he meant to bring about that very thing, and he's succeeding much
better than I had dared to hope."

"Who wouldn't be jolly in a party where Red was one? Did you ever see
the dear fellow so absolutely irresistible? Sometimes I think there's a
bit of hypnotism about Red, he gets us all so completely."

"What are you two whispering about?" said a voice behind them, and they
turned to look into the brilliant hazel eyes both were thinking of at
the moment.

"You," King answered promptly.

"Rebelling against the autocracy of the Indian Chief?"

"No. Prostrating ourselves before his bulky form. He's some Indian
to-day."

"He will be before the day is over, I promise you. He'll call a council
around the campfire to-night, and plenty pipes will be smoked. Everybody
do as Big Chief says, eh?"

"Sure thing, Geronimo; that's what we came for."

"You don't know what you came for. Absolutely preposterous this thing
is--surgeon going to visit his case and bringing along a lot of people
who don't know a mononuclear leucocyte from an eosinophile cell."

"Do you know a vortex filament from a diametral plane?" demanded King.

Burns laughed. "Come, let's be off! I must spare half an hour to show
Mrs. King a certain view somewhat off the main line."

The afternoon was gone before they could have believed it, detours
though there were several, as there usually are in a road-mending
season. As the car emerged from a long run through wooded country and
passed a certain landmark carefully watched for by Red Pepper, he spoke
to Aleck.

"Run slowly now, please. And be ready to turn to the left at a point
that doesn't show much beforehand."

They were proceeding through somewhat sparsely settled country, though
marked here and there by comfortable farmhouses of a more than
ordinarily attractive type--apparently homes of prosperous people with
an eye to appearances. Then quite suddenly the car, rounding a turn,
came into a different region, one of cultivated wildness, of studied
effects so cleverly disguised that they would seem to the unobservant
only the efforts of nature at her best. A long, heavily shaded avenue of
oaks, with high, untrimmed hedges of shrubbery on each side, curved
enticingly before them, and all at once, Burns, looking sharply ahead,
called, "There, by that big pine, Aleck--to the left." In a minute more
the car turned in at a point where a rough stone gateway marked the
entrance to nothing more extraordinary than a pleasant wood.

"Patient lives in a hut in the forest?" King inquired with interest.
"Or a rich man's hunting lodge?"

"You'll soon see." Burns's eyes were ahead; a slight smile touched his
lips.

The car swept around curve after curve of the wood, came out upon the
shore of a small lake and, skirting it halfway round, plunged into a
grove of pines. Then, quite without warning, there showed beyond the
pines a long, white-plumed row of small trees of a sort unmistakable--in
May. Beside the row lay a garden, gay with all manner of spring flowers,
and farther, through the trees, began to gleam the long, low outlines of
a great house.

"Stop just here, Aleck, for a minute," Burns requested, and the car came
to a standstill. Burns looked at Jordan King.

"Ever see that row of white lilacs before, Jord?" he asked with
interest.

King was staring at it, a strange expression of mingled perplexity and
astonishment upon his fine, dark face. After a minute he turned to
Burns.

"What--when--where--" he stammered, and stopped, gazing again at the
lilac hedge and the box-bordered beds with their splashes of bright
colour.

"Well, I don't know what, when, or where, if you don't," Burns returned.

But evidently King did know, or it came to him at that instant, for he
set his lips in a certain peculiar way which his friend understood meant
an attempt at quick disguise of strong feeling. He gave his mother one
glance and sat back in his seat. Then he looked again at Burns. "What is
this, anyway?" he asked rather sternly. "The home of your patient, or a
show place you've stopped to let us look at?"

"My patient's in the house up there. Drive on, Aleck, please. They'll be
expecting us at the back of the house, where the long porches are, and
where they're probably having afternoon tea at this minute." He glanced
at his watch. "Happy time to arrive, isn't it?"

Ellen found herself experiencing a most extraordinary sensation of
excitement as the car rounded the drive and approached the porch, where
she could see a number of people gathered. The place was not more
imposing than many with which she was familiar, and if it had been the
home of one of the world's greatest there would have been nothing
disconcerting to her in the prospect. But something in her husband's
manner assured her that he had been preparing a surprise for them all,
and she had no means of guessing what it might be. The little hasty
sketch of lilac trees against a spring sky, though she had seen it, had
naturally made no such impression upon her as upon King, and she did
not even recall it now.

The car rolled quietly up to the porch steps, and immediately a tall
figure sprang down them. "It's Gardner Coolidge, my old college friend,
Len," Burns said in his wife's ear. "Remember him?" The afternoon
sunlight shone upon the smooth, dark hair and thin, aristocratic face of
a man who spoke eagerly, his quick glance sweeping the occupants of the
car.

"Mrs. King! This is a great pleasure, I assure you--a great pleasure.
Mrs. Burns--we are delighted. And this is your son, Mrs. King--welcome
to you, my dear sir! Red, no need to say we're glad to see you back. Let
me help you, Mrs. King. Don't tell me you wouldn't have known me; that
would be a blow. Alicia"--he turned to the graceful figure approaching
across the porch to meet the elder lady of the party as she came up the
steps upon the arm of the man who had taken her from the car--"Mrs.
King, this is my wife."

Red Pepper Burns, laughing and shaking hands warmly with Alicia
Coolidge, was watching Mrs. Alexander King as, after the first look of
bewilderment, she cried out softly with pleasure at recognizing the son
of an old friend.

"But it has all been kept secret from me," she was saying. "I had no
possible idea of where we were coming, and I am sure my son had not."
She turned to that son, but she could not get his attention, for the
reason that his astonished gaze was fastened upon a person who had at
that moment appeared in the doorway and paused there.



CHAPTER XVII

RED'S DEAREST PATIENTS


Jordan King looked, and looked again, and it was a wonder he did not rub
his eyes to make sure he was fully awake. As he looked the figure in the
doorway came forward. It was that of a girl in a white serge coat and
skirt, with a smart little white hat upon her richly ruddy hair, and the
look, from head to foot, of one who had just returned to a place where
she belonged. And the next instant Anne Linton was greeting Ellen Burns
and coming up to be presented to Mrs. Alexander King.

"This is my little sister, Mrs. King," said Gardner Coolidge, smiling,
and putting his arm about the white-serge-clad shoulders. "She is your
hostess, you know. Alicia and I are only making her a visit."

"I am so glad you are here, Mrs. King," said a voice Jordan King well
remembered, and Anne Linton's eyes looked straight into those of her
oldest guest, whose own were puzzled.

"I think," said Mrs. King, holding the firm young hand which she had
taken, "I have seen you before, my dear, though my memory--"

"Yes, Mrs. King," the girl replied--and there was not the smallest
shadow of triumph discernible in her tone or look--"you have. I came to
see your son in the hospital, with Mrs. Burns, just before I left. It's
not strange you have forgotten me, for we went away almost at once. We
are so delighted to have you come to see us. Isn't it delightful that
you knew our mother so well at school?"

Well, it came Jordan King's turn in the end, although Anne Linton, so
extraordinarily labelled "hostess" by her brother, discharged every duty
of greeting her other guests before she turned to him. Meanwhile he had
stood, frankly staring, hat in hand and growing colour on his cheek,
while his eyes seemed to grow darker and darker under his heavily marked
brows. When Anne turned to him he had no words for her, and hardly a
smile, though his good breeding came to his rescue and put him through
the customary forms of action, dazed though he yet was. He found himself
presented to other people on the porch, whom he recognized as
undoubtedly those whom he had met in the passing car at the time when he
was in doubt as to Anne's identity. Her aunt, uncle, and cousins they
proved to be, though the young man whom he remembered as being present
on that occasion was now happily absent. Jordan King found himself
completely reconciled to this at once.

"How is our patient?" Burns said to Anne at the first opportunity.
"Shall I go up at once?"

"Oh, please wait a minute, Doctor Burns; I want to go with you, and I
must see my guests having some tea first."

There followed, for King, what seemed an interminable interval of time,
during which he was forced to sit beside one of Anne's girl cousins--and
a very pretty girl she was, too, only he didn't seem able to appreciate
it--drinking tea, and handing sugar, and doing all the proper things. In
the midst of this Anne vanished with Red Pepper at her heels, leaving
the tea table to Mrs. Coolidge. At this point, however, King found
himself glad to listen to Miss Stockton.

"I don't suppose anybody in the world but Anne Linton Coolidge would
have thought of sending two hundred miles for a surgeon to operate on
her housekeeper," she was saying when his attention was arrested by her
words. "But she thinks such a lot of Timmy--Mrs. Timmins--she would pay
any sum to keep her in the world. She was Anne's nurse, you see, and of
course Anne is fond of her. And I'm sure we're glad she did send for
him, for it gave us the pleasure of meeting Doctor Burns, and of course
we understand now why she thought nobody else in the world could pull
Timmy through. He's such an interesting personality, don't you think so?
We're all crazy about him."

"Oh, yes, everybody's crazy about him," King admitted readily. "And
certainly two hundred miles isn't far to send for a surgeon these days."

"Of course not--only I don't suppose it's done every day for one's
housekeeper, do you? But nobody ever knows what Anne's going to
do--least of all now, when she's just back, after the most extraordinary
performance." She stopped, looking at him curiously. "I suppose you know
all about it--much more than we, in fact, since you met her when she was
in that hospital. Did you ever hear of a rich girl's doing such a thing
anyway? Going off to sell books for a whole year just because"--she
stopped again, and bit her lip, then went on quickly: "Everybody knows
about it, and you would be sure to hear it sooner or later. Doctor Burns
knows, anyhow, and--"

"Please don't tell me anything I oughtn't to hear," Jordan's sense of
honour impelled him to say. He recognized the feminine type before him,
and though he longed to know all about everything he did not want to
know it in any way Anne would not like.

But there was no stopping the fluffy-haired young person. "Really,
everybody knows; the countryside fairly rang with it a year ago. You
might even have read it in the papers, only you wouldn't remember. A
girl book agent killed herself in Anne's house here because Anne
wouldn't buy her book. Did you ever hear of anything so absurd as Anne's
thinking it was her fault? Of course the girl was insane, and Anne had
absolutely nothing to do with it. And then Anne took the girl's book and
went off to sell it herself--and find out, she said, how such things
could happen. I don't know whether she found out." Miss Stockton laughed
very charmingly. "All I know is we're tremendously thankful to have her
back. Nothing's the same with her away. We don't know if she'll stay,
though. Nobody can tell about Anne, ever."

"Is this your home, too?" King managed to ask. His brain was whirling
with the shock of this astonishing revelation. He wanted to get off by
himself and think about it.

"Oh, no, indeed, no such luck. We live across the lake in a much less
beautiful place, only of course we're here a great deal when Anne's
home. My mother would be a mother to Anne if Anne would let her, but
she's the most independent creature--prefers to live here with just
Timmy and old Campbell, the butler who's been with the family since
time began. Timmy's more than a housekeeper, of course. Anne's made
almost a real chaperon out of her, and she is very dignified and nice."

King would have had the entire family history, he was sure, if a
diversion had not occurred in the nature of a general move to show the
guests to their rooms, with the appearance of servants, and the removal
of luggage. In his room presently, therefore, King had a chance to get
his thoughts together. One thing was becoming momentarily clear to him:
his being here was with Anne's permission--and she was willing to see
him; she had kept her promise. As for all the rest, he didn't care much.
And when he thought of the moment during which his mother had looked so
kindly into Anne's eyes, not recognizing her, he laughed aloud. Let Mrs.
King retreat from that position now if she wanted to. As for himself, he
was not at all sure that he cared a straw to have it thus so clearly
proved that Anne was what she had seemed to be. Had he not known it all
along? His heart sang with the thought that he had been ready to marry
her, no matter what her position in the world.

And now he wondered how many hours it would be before he should have his
chance to see her alone, if for but five minutes. Well, at least he
could look at her. And that, as he descended the stairs with the
others, he found well worth doing. Anne and Gardner Coolidge were
meeting them at the foot, and the young hostess had changed her white
outing garb for a most enchanting other white, which showed her round
arms through soft net and lace and made her yet a new type of girl in
King's thought of her.

She had a perfectly straightforward way of meeting his eyes, though her
own were bewildering even so, without any coquetry in her use of them.
She was not blushing and shy, she was self-possessed and radiant. King
could understand, as he looked at her now, how she had felt over that
affair of the tragedy suddenly precipitated into her life, and what
strength of character it must have taken to send her out from this
secluded and perfect home into a rough world, that she might find out
for herself "how such things could happen." And as he watched her,
playing hostess in this home of hers, looking after everybody's comfort
with that ease and charm which proclaims a lifetime of previous training
and custom, his heart grew fuller and fuller of pride and love and
longing.

The dinner hour passed, a merry hour at a dignified table, served by the
old butler who made a rite of his service, his face never relaxing
though the laughter rang never so contagiously. Burns and Coolidge were
the life of the company, the latter seeming a different man from the
one who had come to consult his old chum as to the trouble in his life.
Mrs. Coolidge, quiet and very attractive in her reserved, fair beauty,
made an interesting foil to Ellen Burns, and the two, beside the rather
fussy aunt and cousins, seemed to belong together.

"Anne, we must show Doctor Burns our plans for the cottage," Coolidge
said to his sister as they left the table. He turned to Ellen, walking
beside her. "She's almost persuaded us to build on a corner of her own
estate--at least a summer place, for a starter. You know Red prescribed
for us a cottage, and we haven't yet carried out his prescription But
this sister of mine, since she met him, has acquired the idea that any
prescription of his simply has to be filled, and she won't let Alicia
and me alone till we've done this thing. Shall we all walk along down
there? There'll be just about time before dark for you to see the site,
and the plans shall come later."

The whole party trooped down the steps into the garden. King was a
clever engineer, but he could not do any engineering which seemed to
count in this affair. Never seeming to avoid him, Anne was never where
he could get three words alone with her. She devoted herself to his
mother, to Ellen, or to Burns himself, and none of these people gave him
any help. Not that he wanted them to. He bided his time, and meanwhile
he took some pleasure in showing his lady that he, too, could play his
part until it should suit her to give him his chance.

But when, as the evening wore on, it began to look as if she were
deliberately trying to prevent any interview whatever, he grew unhappy.
And at last, the party having returned to the house and gathered in a
delightful old drawing-room, he took his fate in his hands. At a moment
when Anne stood beside Red Pepper looking over some photographs lying on
the grand piano, he came up behind them.

"Miss Coolidge," he said, "I wonder if you would show me that lilac
hedge by moonlight."

"I'm afraid there isn't any moon," she answered with a merry,
straightforward look. "It will be as dark as a pocket down by that
hedge, Mr. King. But I'll gladly show it to you to-morrow morning--as
early as you like. I'm a very early riser."

"As early as six o'clock?" he asked eagerly.

She nodded. "As early as that. It is a perfect time on a May morning."

"And you won't go anywhere now?"

"How can I?" she parried, smiling. "These are my guests."

Burns glanced at his friend, his hazel eyes full of suppressed laughter.
"Better be contented with that, old fellow. That row of lilacs will be
very nice at six o'clock to-morrow morning. Mayn't I come, too, Miss
Coolidge?"

"Of course you may." Her sparkling glance met his. Evidently they were
very good friends, and understood each other.

"If he does," said King, in a sort of growl, "he'll have something to
settle with me."

He went to bed in a peculiar frame of mind. Why had she wanted to waste
all these hours when at nine in the morning the party was to leave for
its return trip? Well, he supposed morning would come sometime, though
it seemed, at midnight, a long way off.

"Want me to call you at five-thirty, Jord?" Burns had inquired of him at
parting.

"No, thanks," he had replied. "I'll not miss it."

"A fellow might lie awake so long thinking about it that he'd go off
into a sound sleep just before daylight, and sleep right through his
early morning appointment," urged his loyal friend. "Better let me--"

"Oh, you go on to bed!" requested King irritably.

"No gratitude to one who has brought all this to pass, eh?"

"Heaps of it. But this evening has been rather a facer."

"Not at all. There were a dozen times when you might have rushed in and
got a little quiet place all to yourself, with only the stars looking
on. Plenty of openings."

"I didn't see 'em. You were always in the way."

"I was! Well, I like that. Had to be ordinarily attentive to my hostess,
hadn't I? It wasn't for me to take shy little boys by the hand and lead
them up to the little girls they fancied."

"I don't want to be led up by the hand, thank you. Good-night!"

       *       *       *       *       *

King was up at daybreak, which in May comes reasonably early. Stealing
down through the quiet house, the windows of which seemed to be all wide
open to the morning air, he came out upon the porch and took the path to
the lilac hedge. Arrived there at only twenty minutes before the
appointed hour, he had so long a wait that he began to grow both
impatient and chagrined. At quarter-past six he was feeling very much
like stalking back to the house and retiring to his room, when the low
sound of a motor arrested him, and he wheeled, to discover a long, low,
gray car, of a type with which he was not familiar, sailing gracefully
around the long curve of the driveway toward him. A trim figure in gray,
with a small gray velvet hat pulled close over auburn hair, was at the
wheel, and a vivid face was smiling at him. But the air of the driver
as she drew up beside him was not at all sentimental, rather it was
businesslike.

"I'm awfully sorry to be late," she said, "but I couldn't possibly help
it. I got up at four, to make a call I had to make and be back, but I
was detained. And even now I must be off again, without any lingering by
lilac hedges. What shall we do about it?"

"I'll go with you." And King stepped into the car.

"With or without an invitation?" Her eyes were laughing, though her lips
had sobered.

"With or without. And you know you came back for me."

"I came back for a basket of things I must get from the house. Also, of
course, to explain my detention."

"Out selling books, I suppose?" he questioned, not caring much what he
said, now that he had her to himself. "You must make a great impression
as a book agent. If only you had tried that way in our town. And I--I
took you in my car under the pleasant impression that I was giving you a
treat--on that first trip, you know. By the second trip I had acquired a
sneaking suspicion that motoring wasn't such a novelty to you as I had
at first supposed."

They had flown around the remaining curves and were at a rear door of
the house. Anne jumped out, was gone for ten minutes or so, and emerged
with a servant following with a great hamper. This was bestowed at
King's feet, and the car was off again, Anne driving with the ease of a
veteran.

"You see," she explained, "late last evening I had news of the serious
illness of a girl friend of mine. I went to see her, but after I came
back I couldn't be easy about her, and so I got up quite early this
morning and went again. She was much better, precisely as Doctor Burns
had assured me she would be. By and by perhaps I shall learn to trust
him as absolutely as all the rest of you do."

"Burns! You don't mean to say you had him out to see a case last
night--after--"

She nodded, and her profile, under the snug gray hat, was a little like
that of a handsome and somewhat mischievous but strong-willed boy. "Was
that so dreadful of me--as a hostess? I admit that a doctor ought to be
allowed to rest when he is away from home, but I knew that he was just
back from a long voyage and was feeling fit as a fiddle, as he himself
said. And there is really no very competent man in the town where my
friend is ill; it was such a wonderful chance for her to have great
skill at her service. And such skill! Oh, how he went to work for her!
It made one feel at once that something was being done, where before
people had merely tried to do things."

King was making rapid calculation. At the end of it, "Would you mind
telling me whether you have had any sleep at all?" he begged.

She turned her face toward him for an instant. "Do I look so haggard and
wan?" she queried with a quick glance. "Yes, I had a good two hours. And
I'm so happy now to know that Estelle is sleeping quietly that it's much
better than to have slept myself."

"Do you do this sort of thing often?"

"Not just such spectacular night work, but I do try to see that a little
is done to look after a few people who have had a terribly hard time of
it. But this is all--or mostly--since I came back from my year away. I
learned just a few things during that year, you know."

"Your cousin--do you mind?--gave me just a bit of an idea why you went,"
he ventured.

"Oh, Leila Stockton." Her lips took on an amused curl. "Of course Leila
would. She--chatters. But she's a dear girl; it's just that she can't
easily get a new point of view."

He pressed her with his questions, for his discernment told him that it
was of no use, while they were flying along the road at this pace, with
a hamper at their feet--or at his feet, crowding him rather
uncomfortably and forcing him to sit with cramped legs--no use for him
to talk of the subject uppermost in his anxious mind. So he got from
her, as well as he could, the story of the year, and presently had her
telling him eagerly of the people she had met, and the progress she had
made in the study of human beings. It was really an engrossing tale,
quietly as she told it, and many as were the details he saw that she
kept back.

"I found out one thing very early," she said. "I knew that I could never
come back and live as I had lived before, with no thought of any one but
myself."

"I don't believe you had ever done that."

"I had--I had, if ever any one did. I went away to school in Paris for
two years; I wouldn't go to college--how I wish I had! I was the gayest,
most thoughtless girl you ever knew until--the thing happened that sent
my world spinning upside down. Why, Mr. King, I was so selfish and so
thoughtless that I could turn that poor girl away from my door with a
careless denial, and never see that she was desperate--that it wanted
only one more such turning away to make her do the thing she did."

He saw her press her lips together, her eyes fixed on the road ahead,
and he saw the beautiful brows contract, as if the memory still were
too keen for her to bear calmly.

"You have certainly atoned a hundred times over," he said gently, "for
any carelessness in the past. How could you know how she was feeling?
And she was insane, Miss Stockton said."

"No more insane than I am now--simply desperate with weariness and
failure. And I should have seen; I did see. I just--didn't care. I was
busy trying on a box of new frocks from a French dressmaker, frocks of
silk and lace--of silk and lace, Jordan King, while she hadn't clothes
enough to keep her warm! And I couldn't spare the time to look at the
girl's book! Well, I learned what it was to have people turn me from
their doors--I, with plenty of money at my command, no matter how I
elected to dress cheaply and go to cheap boarding places, and--insist on
cheap beds at hospitals." Her tone was full of scorn. "After all, did I
ever really suffer anything of what she suffered? Never, for always I
knew that at any minute I could turn from a poor girl into a rich one,
throw my book in the faces of those who refused to buy it, and telephone
my anxious family. They did come on and try to get me away--once. I went
with them--for the day. It was the day you met me. And always there was
the interest of the adventure. It was an adventure, you know, a big
one."

"I should say it was. And when you were at the hospital--"

"Accepting expensive rooms and free medical attendance--oh, wasn't I a
fraud? How I felt it I can never tell you. But I could--and did--send
back Doctor Burns a draft in part payment, though I thought he would
never imagine where it came from. He did, though. What do you suppose he
told me last night when we were driving home?--this morning it was, of
course."

"I can't guess," King admitted, suffering a distinct and poignant pang
of jealousy at thought of Red Pepper Burns driving through the night
with this girl, on an errand of mercy though it had been.

"He told me," she said slowly, "that he learned all about me while I was
in the hospital. One night, when I was at the worst, he sent Miss Arden
out for a rest and sat beside me himself. And in my foolish, delirious
wanderings I gave him the whole story, or enough of it so that he pieced
out the rest. And he never told a soul, not even his wife; wasn't that
wonderful of him? And treated me exactly the same as if he didn't
practically know I wasn't what I seemed. You see, I wasn't far enough
away from that poor girl's suicide, when I was so ill last year, but
that it was always in my mind. Even yet I dream of it at times."

They were entering a large manufacturing town, the streets in the early
morning full of factory operatives on their way to work, dinner-pails in
hands and shawls over heads. Anne drove carefully, often throwing a
smile at a group of children or slowing down more than the law decreed
to avoid making some weary-faced woman hurry. And when at length she
drew up before a dingy brick tenement house, of a type the most
unpromising, King discovered that her "friend" was one of these very
people.

He carried the hamper up two flights of ramshackle stairs and set it
inside the door she indicated. Then he unwillingly withdrew to the car,
where he sat waiting--and wondering. It was not long he had to wait, in
point of time, but his impatience was growing upon him. All this was
very well, and threw interesting lights upon a girl's character, but--it
would be nine o'clock all too soon. To be sure, though Red Pepper bore
him away, he knew the road back--he could come back as soon as he
pleased, with nobody to set hours of departure for him. But he did not
mean to go away this first time without the thing he wanted, if it was
to be his.

She came running downstairs, face aglow with relief and pleasure, and
sent the car smoothly away. And now it was that King discovered how a
girl may fence and parry, so that a man may not successfully introduce
the subject he is burning to speak of, without riding roughshod over her
objection. And presently he gave it up, biding his time. He sat silent
while she talked, and then finally, when she too grew silent, he let the
minutes slip by without another word. Thus it was that they drew up at
the house, still speechless concerning the great issue between them.

It was only a little past seven; nobody was in sight except a maid
servant, who slipped discreetly away. King took one look into a small
room at the right of the hall, a sort of small den or office it seemed
to be. Then he turned to Anne and put out his hand. "Will you come in
here, please?" he requested.

She looked at him for a moment without giving him her hand, then
preceded him into the room. There was a heavy curtain of dull blue silk
hanging by the door frame, and King noiselessly drew this across. Then
he turned and confronted the girl. She had drawn off her motoring
gloves, but made no motion to remove either the rough gray coat in which
she had been driving or the small gray velvet hat drawn smoothly down
over her curls with a clever air of its own. Altogether she looked not
in the least like a hostess, but very like a traveller who has only
paused for a brief stop on a journey to be immediately continued.

He stood there watching her for a minute, himself a challenging figure
with his dark, bright face, his fine young height, his air of--quite
suddenly--commanding the situation. And he was between the girl and the
door. The two pairs of eyes looked straight into each other.

"Well?" he said.

"Well?" said Anne Linton Coolidge in return.

"Did you expect me to wait any longer?"

"I was afraid you might come and go--and never say so much as 'Well?'"
said she.

This was more than mortal man could bear--and there was no more waiting
done by anybody. When Jordan King had--temporarily--done satisfying the
hunger of his lips and arms, he spoke again, looking down searchingly at
a face into which he had brought plenty of splendid colour.

"If I had found you in that poor place I thought I should, it would have
been just the same," he said.

"I really believe it would," admitted Anne.

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour afterward, emerging from the small room which had held such
a big experience, the pair discovered Red Pepper Burns just descending
the stairway. He scrutinized their faces sharply, then advanced upon
them. They met him halfway. He gravely took Anne's hand and set his
fingers on her pulse.

"Too rapid," he said with a shake of the head. "Altogether too rapid.
You have been undergoing much excitement--and so early in the morning,
too. As your physician I must caution you against such untimely hours."

He felt of King's wrist, and again he shook his head. "Worse and worse,"
he announced. "Not only rapid, but bounding. The heart is plainly
overworked. These cases are contagious. One acts upon the other--no
doubt of it--no doubt at all. I would suggest--"

He found both his arms grasped by Jordan King's strong hands, and he
allowed himself to be held tightly by that happy young man. "Give us
your best wishes!" demanded his captor.

"Why, you've had those from the first. I saw this coming before either
of you," Burns replied.

"Not before I did," asserted King.

"Not before I did," declared Anne.

Then the two looked at each other, and Burns, smiling at them, his hazel
eyes very bright, requested to be restored the use of his arms. This
being conceded, he laid those arms about the shoulders before him and
drew the two young people close within them.

"You two are the most satisfactory and the dearest patients I've ever
had," declared Red Pepper Burns.





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